Sunday, 29 January 2012

Blog Tour: Cynthia Hand - Hallowed

Hi guys - have you you all had a lovely weekend? Hopefully this fab guest post from Cynthia Hand will keep those Sunday blues away because, well, we all have to go back to work/school tomorrow and that's just not a fun prospect, is it?


Cynthia Hand talks SETTING

I feel like my career is one big lesson in why it’s important, as a writer, to embrace setting. So often beginning writers pay attention to plot, characters, conflict, point of view, all those things, but don’t give much thought to setting. Why? Well, it’s only place, after all.

But place is important.

Let me take you back to the beginning.

1988. This was the year of the big Yellowstone National Park forest fires, what would later be called “the great fires.” It started with a dry, windy summer and a single lightning strike, and it ended up consuming more 1.4 million acres of forest.

I was ten years old in 1988. My family lived in Idaho Falls, which is a couple hours from Yellowstone. It’s funny (and possibly dumb, yes), but while the park was evacuating all the tourists, many of the natives in the area actually drove into Yellowstone to see the fire. Like my family. We wanted in on the action.

I remember the power of the fire, mostly. The way, in spite of the best efforts of the firefighters, it would not be contained, not held back. And I remember the beauty of it, the dance of the flames, the movement from tree to tree and slope to slope. I also remember the way the sun looked that evening as it sank against the smoky sky, so big and orange I felt like I could have reached out and picked it like a peach.

It made a big impression on me, is what I’m saying. If you’ve read Unearthly you’ll see why.


Another big event happened in Yellowstone in 1988, this one a more personal one. That fall my family came back to the park during the autumn season. Fall is truly the best time to visit Yellowstone, in my opinion. There are less tourists, the aspens are turning spectacular colors, and the elk are acting peculiar.

That day my family sat down to eat lunch on the edge of a meadow with a small herd of elk, a male (bull) and his little harem of four or five females (cows), grazing across a stream from us. We weren’t extremely close to them, but close enough to see them nicely from a distance. Everything was quiet until, suddenly, we heard a loud bugle. A new challenger bull stepped from the tree line, lifted his head and bugled again. The original bull whipped his head up, moved quickly between the challenger and his women, and bugled back. Back and forth they bugled, until the challenger boldly came out into the middle of the meadow and the two bulls squared off for a fight.

It was fantastic. The crash of the horns, the bugling, the way they turned and angled and rushed at each other again and again. Unbelievable to see. I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time. When it was over the original bull was victorious. He gathered up his harem and exited the scene. The challenger took off, limping and huffing. For a while I just stared at the place in the meadow where they’d been. The earth was upturned, gouged. The meadow was quiet once again.


That night I started writing. I was working on a Halloween story about witches at the time, so that night, in our tent by the light of a flashlight, I worked in a new scene, a scene where my witchy main character inexplicably witnesses two elk fighting. I used all my ten-year-old writerly power to try to capture what I had seen earlier, the power of it, the beauty, the way the air felt, the way the trees looked, the way the elk moved and sounded and struggled.

The story made no sense. But out of all the pieces of writing that I did as a child, all the stories about unicorns and fairies, that story about the witch watching the elk is the one I remember most clearly. It stayed with me. Why? Because of the power of setting.

It’s funny to me that I didn’t learn that lesson then. More than ten years later, in writing school, I actually avoided writing about real settings. I was the youngest and most clueless student in my MFA program, and the only one, at the time, from Idaho, and I didn’t want to be seen as the local hick. Plus I didn’t think people would be particularly interested in my part of Idaho, with its farmland and distant mountains. So I tried to write settings that were “universal.” My settings were like a blank stage in my mind, where I occasionally dragged a sofa on for my characters to sit on, or a bed to sleep in, or any other prop they might need.

My stories weren’t very good then, and nobody was excited about them.

Finally, my third and final year of the program, I decided that I would write one story about Idaho, and see what happened. It was a story called “The Sugar Shell,” which is about a fourteen-year-old girl whose mother has recently died of cancer, who feels like she must be the woman of the house now for her father and younger brothers, who gets a job at a cake decorating shop in Idaho Falls. There is a real Sugar Shell in Idaho Falls. My mom worked there when I was very young, and I had hazy but magical memories of that place. So I started writing. I used all my writerly power to capture that place, not only the shop, but the train tracks beyond the shop, the country roads beyond the train tracks, the dark and run down house where my main character lived. And I tried to make her an Idahoan through and through, from the way her voice sounded to how she thought about the world.

The story came alive for me as I wrote it, and everybody who read it loved it, and my instructors told me to send it out for publication. I did, and it was immediately accepted in a very good literary journal. And after the story published, literary agents started contacting me, asking me what I was working on. Out of those agents I picked Katherine, who would be my agent five years later when I sent her my first draft of Unearthly.

So, to make a long story short, me embracing my roots and deciding to write about setting led, in its way, to a book contract. None of the crazy and wonderful stuff that’s happened to me in the past few years would have happened if I had continued to avoid writing about my home.

Lesson learned, right? Lesson learned!


When I first had the idea for Unearthly, I chose my setting carefully. I knew it needed to be a place where a forest fire was possible (ah ha! A forest fire!) and I knew that I wanted it to be a place with a decent-sized high school. Jackson, Wyoming fit that bill perfectly. I grew up a couple hours away from the Jackson area (which is pretty close to Yellowstone), and had been visiting that town and having fun in that place all my life. I love Jackson, so it was a no-brainer to choose to write about it. It was a great place to get to travel to every day in my head.

It is also home to my favorite mountains in the world: the Tetons. There is no place on this earth that I can go and have a greater sense of awe, such glory. It was, in a word, perfect for my story about angels and flight, and readers have responded so well to it. I probably get one email or so a week where the reader talks about wanting to visit Jackson Hole, which always makes me smile. It’s also a large part of why I was able to sell the film rights to the book so easily. My agent simply set along a set of photos from places in the book.

So. Setting is good! If you’re a writer, embrace your settings! Know your “heart’s field,” and use it.

I’m only able to write about this for you now, because I did.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Blog Tour: Opal Moonbaby - Maudie Smith

Good afternoon my dears. Two blog tours in one day - maniac around here at the moment! For my second stop of the day I've got a great guest post from Maudie Smith, author of the middle-grade novel, Opal Moonbaby. Have a read below of the exact from The Earth Manual and see if you can make it all the way through without cracking a smile. I failed, spectacularly.


Extract from:
The Earth Manual
(Essential reading for all Earth-bound Carnelians)
Section II.iii.4(a.1.11)
Street Wisdom

As has already been said many times in this Manual, when on Earth it is the Carnelian's main aim to blend in, ie to not stand out. Observe the following simple rules and you will be sure to be taken for just one of the crowd.

Street Rule, the first: Earth streets are exceedingly cracky (ie littered with cracks). Attend to these cracks at all times. Do not step on one or you will be eaten by an Earth bear. (NB. This is not proven but do you really want to risk it?)

Street Rule, the second: WALK in an Earth street. Do not GLIDE. Gliding will draw immediate attention to you. It is in any case much more difficult to glide on Earth owing to the high levels of gravity.

Street Rule, the third: If you encounter a human coming towards you, immediately make eye contact with them. This helps to establish that they are neither a lamp-post nor a parking meter - there is a great deal of such street furniture cluttering the Earth highways and it can be confusing. Once you have established eye contact, extend your hand and grasp the oncoming fingers firmly in your own, saying as you do so, “How do you do?” (This makes no particular sense. 'What do you do?' would be a much more useful question but humans expect this so say it anyway.) The human will respond with 'Yo!', 'fine, thank you', 'what's it to you?' or 'huh?', at which point you should release their fingers, say, 'It was pleasant shooting the breeze with you. Goodbye,' and continue on your way in a purposeful manner.

Note: if the human has a street pet with them (street pets are mingle-like creatures usually with a canine emphasis) on no account allow your mingle to come into contact with them. This will lead to suspicious rear end sniffing. If your mingle does arouse comment, say, 'Yes he's a rare breed of terrapin,' and move quickly away.

Remember. WALK! Do not GLIDE!

Blog Tour: Dark Parties - Sara Grant

Today I've got the very lovely Sara Grant with me for a guest post about friendship and love in her debut novel, Dark Parties. Welcome to Writing from the Tub, Sara, I'm very excited to have you here today!


BFFs 4 Evva

Dark Parties is a love story. Sure there’s a sexy, mysterious leading man and forbidden romance. But in many ways the central love story is between two best friends – Neva and Sanna. If you are lucky enough to have a best friend, you know the importance of this relationship and that they save your life in big and small ways all the time.

When I was Neva’s age, boyfriends came and went but girlfriends endured. I wanted to write a story with friendship at its heart. Maybe that’s strange for a book titled Dark Parties. But this feminine camaraderie is the underlying pulse of the book. Neva and Sanna complete each other. They finish each other’s sentences. Neva grounds Sanna and serves as her surrogate family. Sanna provides Neva with a spark and an energy.

When the novel opens, Neva and Sanna have decided to rebel against the government. Each has different objectives. Sanna wants to make a splash. Neva wants to make a difference. Sanna has the ideas. Neva has the connections. They host a dark party – a party in the pitch black. Their hope is to entice their friends to join them in a secret rebellion. But when the lights go out, Neva accidently kisses someone. When the lights come back on, she realizes she’s kissed Sanna’s boyfriend. Now she’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend and discovering secrets and lies that threaten her friendship, her family and her country. Ultimately Neva must risk everything to save her best friend.

Sanna reminds me of two of my best friends. She’s part my oldest and dearest friend Courtney. We met in college. She’s the one who understands me like no other – and likes me anyway. We have been friends for more than twenty years. We have grown up and weathered many trials and tribulations together. We are separated by a big ocean but no matter how long between our phone calls, it’s like we were never apart. She knows the right thing to say no matter what my conundrum.

Sanna is also part my newest and dearest friend. From the moment we met in 2005, we had an instant connection. We are both Americans named Sara who married Brits and now live in the UK – and have a deep love for Mexican food. She has boundless enthusiasm and is never at a loss for big ideas. She never ceases to amaze me. I can always count on her.

What’s the saying? A friend helps you move, your best friend helps you move a body. If one of my friends called with an emergency – no matter what the time, no matter where I was – I’d drop everything to help. What would you do to save your best friend?


Lovely - now please excuse me while I send my best friend a text telling her how awesome she is!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Interview: Kristen Simmons (Article 5)

Good day, chaps! Hasn't January flown by? We're creeping ever closer to the apocalypse. Joking. I hope.

Anyway, I've got another debut YA author interview for you today. This time I've got Kristen Simmons with me, author of the hotly anticipated Article 5, the first in a new trilogy which I for one and seriously excited about. Article 5 is due out in just over a week on the 31/01/2012, published by Tor Teen.


Hi, Kristen! In case any readers haven’t heard about the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Article 5?

Hi Carly! Thanks for inviting me over to your blog!

I’d love to tell you all about ARTICLE 5, but since I have a hard time keeping things concise when asked about it, I’ll share the cover copy. It’s a little more to-the-point than I tend to be!

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behav-ior—instead, there are arrests, trials and maybe worse. People who get arrested don’t usually come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard to forget that people weren’t always ar-rested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. That life in the United States used to be different.

In the three years since the war ended, Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs—like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes—and how to pass the random home inspections by the Federal Bureau of Reformation. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow. That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And what’s worse, one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

This is something that has changed drastically over the years. When I wrote A5, I was working full-time and teaching exercise classes in the evening, which meant that I typically wrote on lunch breaks, late at night, or on the weekends. Now that I’m taking some time off to finish the series, I have much more flexibility – but that means I need to be even more disciplined!

I never set a target word count for the day. Mostly because I hate counting words (ha ha), as my agent can attest to. Like I said, I have a hard time keeping things concise. Instead, I’ll set a specific scene goal; for example, my characters have to get from Point A to Point B, or get into a fight, or escape the authorities.

Almost always, when I sit down to write, I need some time to get my head back “in the game,” so to speak. To do this, I’ll reread everything that I wrote the previously day, that way I’m both editing as I go along, and getting back into the spirit of the story. Usually by the time I’ve read through the previous day’s pages, I’m no longer hearing the washing machine buzz, or the phone ring. I’m focused and ready to work.

In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

Wow, good question. I’d say the most important thing to get right is a character’s flaws. I know that sounds awful – I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy – but I think flaws are the essential elements which make us human. For me, it’s easy to write characters who always do the right thing in any given situation (be the right thing “good” or “evil”), but it’s not always easy to identify the underlying issues they struggle with: a short fuse, an abusive parent, feeling fat, a fear of being alone, bad breath. It’s important to express a character’s vulnerabilities, because under our candy-coated shells, we’re all vulnerable about something, and oftentimes it’s those vulnerabilities which truly connect us, not just common interests or common enemies. A character’s weaknesses are always what define my relationship with them as a reader.

What sort of research did you have to do for Article 5? How did you go about doing this?

Ha. My husband always jokes that I’m one Google search short of being arrested.

For ARTICLE 5, I knew I wanted to write about a society that had abolished the separation between church and state, and replaced the American Bill of Rights (a document protecting citizens from the government by giving them the right to religious freedom, speech, free press, etc.) with a set of Moral Statutes. I also knew I wanted to include a military regime, and an opposing resistance, all of which I had only a superficial knowledge.

I did do a lot of research on the internet. I had to read up on the American Revolution, and to explore the founding documents that granted citizens personal freedom in order to understand the magnitude of overhauling a country’s core belief system. And...I did a lot of online searches on guns, weapons, and political conspiracy theories. Sooo glad I never got in trouble for that.

A few close friends, and a few absolutely fantastic high school guys, helped me realize just how easy it is to make something blow up (in theory. IN THEORY!), and how to ride a motorcycle. And, maybe best of all, I went on a fantastic ridealong with the police one night, and learned all about weapons, policy-stuff, and what it feels like to sit in the passenger seat while someone drives 120 mph down surface streets, weaving in and out of cars, with the sirens blaring and the lights blazing. Researching a book is awesome.

The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Article 5 apart from the pack?

I think the primary element which sets A5 apart from the other dystopian thrillers is its place in time. Ember's world is not run by machines or Skynet, there are no hover crafts or futuristic weapons. Her world is much like our own, with similar technologies, communication methods, and social issues. However, within this similar reality exists a very different political structure - a moral regime, governed by a set of faith-based rules which have replaced the Bill of Rights. A5 looks at what might happen to life as we know it should the separation between church and state be dissolved and the punishments for noncompliance be taken too far. And Ember, like all of us, is forced to adapt to that environment while remembering what it was like before everything changed.

There are a couple other things, but I don’t want to give away the ending!

Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

Music has a very important role in my life – it’s my daily medicine – but I can’t actually write and listen at the same time. Mostly just because of overstimulation; I’m afraid my brain will explode if crowded with too many things. But, that being said, I used music a lot to set the scene for A5, and to put me in the right frame of mind to write. Here are the songs I listened to over and over:

ARTICLE 5 Playlist:
Track Artist
1. Grounds for Divorce Elbow
2. Kingdom of Rust Doves
3. Magick Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
4. Call Me When You’re Sober Evanescence
5. Decode Paramore
6. Imaginary Evanescence
7. Runnin’ Wild Airbourne
8. Permanent David Cook
9. For Reasons Unknown The Killers
10. My Immortal Evanescence
11. I Don’t Believe You Pink
12. Hurt Christina Aguilera

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

I was originally a pantser (which is probably why the first draft of A5 was so long and consequently had so many revisions), but over time I’m becoming more and more of a plotter. I’m finding it harder than I thought to close a series. You have to tie up loose ends and stuff.

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Article 5? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

I wrote the first draft of ARTICLE 5 in about eight weeks, in the fall of 2008. I went out in search of an agent in the beginning of 2009 and connected Joanna MacKenzie, with Browne and Miller Literary Agents in April of 2009. You may remember earlier that I mentioned I can be a little verbose...well...the first draft of A5 that I sent to Joanna was approximately 154,000 words (which is an awful lot for YA). Anyway, she expressed the appropriate concerns, but thought the story had some potential, so we hacked into it (aka, did revisions) for a while. Almost a year actually. After she offered representation, we went out on submission, and that’s when I met editor-extraordinaire, Melissa Frain, at Tor Teen (we’re now in the summer of 2010). Revisions commenced, and as you know ARTICLE 5 will be released on January 31st, 2012. Yes, this has been a long process, but I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been pretty amazing.

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

Oh gosh. This is a hard question for me to answer. I didn’t have a blog, let alone a Facebook page (personal or professional), before I signed a contract with the publisher. Social media is a definite learning curve for me. That being said, it gets easier the more you do it. I definitely like stalking my author friends on their blogs, and connecting to other writers and readers through Facebook.

What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?

Eating. Plain and simple. I have a hard time sitting at my computer without mindlessly stuffing my face.

Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

It is important to me actually. Chase was chosen because both he and Ember are on the run, are chased, while at the same time pursuing something else. Ember is pursu-ing her mother. Chase is pursuing their safety. Both are chasing each other, although due to circumstances are finding each other just out of reach. This puts them in a state of constant motion, making it hard to settle, which is why they cling to that which doesn’t change – their memories of each other.

My heroine required something slightly unusual to reflect her tenacity in a world of compliance and regulations, but not so flamboyant that she would stand out. The "E" softened the name Amber, allowing her to slip into the mainstream crowd pre-Chase, but not become dismissible. Embers are also, of course, the last smoldering ashes of the fire, and that’s sort of the point of her. She blends in while the world is rages and is stripped away, yet still burns, still perseveres.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing Article 5? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

Honestly, I just wanted to write the kind of story I like to read. Something fast-paced and romantic, with enough controversy to make me think about things. I feel like I accomplished that.

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

Oh yes. I love writing books for young adults because I think that age is the most crucial time of our lives. It’s when we start to really consider why we act the way we act, and think they way we think, and believe what we believe. (Because of others? Because of our parents?) This is the age where we start to develop our own opinions, when every experience is fresh and new and therefore so acute and intense, when everything is funny and traumatic and embarrassing and beautiful.

There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

Another good question! This IS a hot topic, but an important one, nonetheless. I believe that YA authors should write about whatever feels right and natural to them. If that means sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, that’s what it means. I don’t think authors should censor their creative process. As far as what teens should have access to, I think that’s up to the teen and the family.

Here’s what I know from personal experience: if you tell a teen not to do something, they will inevitably seek it out. Teens are going to experiment with all kinds of stuff because that’s what being a teen is all about; that’s how someone figures out who they are and how they fit into the world. But the more information teens have to make safe, informed decisions, the better. And sometimes characters can provide empathy, and normalize a person’s feelings, in a way no one else can.

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

Absolutely anything from the Apocalypsies. I’ve gotten to know some of these writers and ohmygosh, they’re amazing. I’m especially looking forward to PUSHING THE LIMITS, by Katie McGarry, STORMDANCER by Jay Kristoff, and RENEGADE by Jess Souders. There are also a lot of sequels from series I read due out in 2012. The Apocalypse better not actually happen!!

Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

I spend my free time exercising (to keep my head on straight), reading (of course), or having fun with my husband and our greyhound. We love going to the movies and finding tasty little restaurants (Husband and I – not greyhound, husband and I).

Thank you so much for your time, Kristen. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

Of course! ARTICLE 5 is a trilogy, so you can expect book 2 and book 3 to come out in February 2013 and February 2014. Also, because the publishing industry is not particularly snappy, I had some time in the gaps to work on other projects. I’m currently working on shaping up two other manuscripts, one about a girl forced into human trafficking, and the other about sweatshops and children’s rights. Maybe they’ll make it to print...maybe not...but I hope so!

Thanks so much for taking the time to ask about A5, Carly. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to chat with you and your readers!

High-Five for A5!

Kristen

Link
Ha, I love high-five for A5! I hope that catches on :). For more information about Kristen and Article 5 you can check out the following links:

Friday, 20 January 2012

Interview: Caroline Starr Rose (May B)

Hi all, I've got a great interview today with Caroline Starr Rose, debut author of the recently released MG verse novel, May B. I'm a huge fan of verse novels and am always looking for new authors to try so I'm really excited to get my hands on this one.


Hi, Caroline! In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about May B?

From the book jacket:

I watch the wagon
until I see nothing on the open plain.
For the first time ever,
I am alone.

May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter.

This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded.
May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

Because I primarily write verse, any sort of word or page count utterly discourages me. On a good day, I might hit 300 words. On a spectacular day, I might get to 500. Instead of page or word counts, I force myself to sit with the book, even when the words aren’t there. As long as I don’t have appointments or errands, the day is wide open. It can be painful, but every time I enter this phase, I’m so glad this time of forced focus is there. Otherwise, I think I might run and hide.

In middle-grade in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

Voice. Emotions and experiences that ring true, even if the reader can’t directly relate. Honesty.

What sort of research did you have to do for May B? How did you go about doing this?

I read up on the American frontier -- first-hand accounts of prairie women, books about families moving across country to start life in barren, dismal surroundings, general overviews of this period in history, and several novels/biographies (notably Mari Sandoz’s Old Jules).

The middle-grade book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets May B. apart from the pack?

There are actually three things that made my book a really hard sell: it’s a historical literary verse novel. Not exactly what everyone’s clamoring to read. On the flip side, these three traits are what make May B. unique and what sets it apart from other middle grade titles.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

I’m a little of both. I find I need to know my setting and characters before I begin. I also like to plot a very general story and character arc. Then I dig in, fully knowing things will change.

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with May B? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

I started May B. in 2007, signed with my agent in 2009, and sold it, at auction, in 2010 with a publication date scheduled for September 2011. After working on revisions, line edits, and copyedits, my publisher, Random House Children’s Books, closed down my imprint, Tricycle Press. This meant my editor and all her colleagues lost their jobs and May B. was without a home. For six weeks, I had no idea what would happen to my book. Thankfully, another RHCB imprint, Schwartz and Wade, picked it up. I went through revisions, line edits, and copyedits again. My publication date moved to 2012. As hard as this was, I’m so glad I got to work with two different editors. My work is better for it.

Before signing with my agent, I counted up over three hundred rejections from editors and agents spanning eleven years and eleven books. Writing is not for the faint of heart!

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

It’s important, but what I think is most important is for authors to participate in social media they enjoy. I’m not on Twitter and have no plans to be. I don’t have the time or inclination. Maybe I’m missing out, but I’m okay with that.

What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?

Procrastinating and /or agonizing over starting something new.

Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

For historicals, I make sure the names I pick were actually being used in the time and place I’m writing about. May’s name came to me before the character herself did: Mavis Elizabeth Betterly. I liked the idea of her being May B. and the double entendre hinted at there -- maybe being a rather weak, non-committal word. I also liked that her last name hints at “better”. In developing her character, I determined there needed to be some way she felt weak, something she longed to be better at.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing May B? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

Wow, that’s a huge question. I’d say apart from hoping to create a unique, compelling book, my primary goal was to let kids know everyone feels like they don’t measure up in some way and that a person’s worth isn’t wrapped up in what we can or cannot do.

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

Since I write middle grade, I’d say my pre-teen years certainly have influenced what I write today. There is an intensity to young children that I want to honor in what I create. I remember feeling passionately about certain things as a girl and how easy it would be to brush off those “childish” ideas now. Books like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series remind me that those first experiences with fear or anger or confusion or joy are valid and okay. I hope my writing shows children the same.

There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

I have no problem with topics that provoke conversations or show kids (in the safety of their own worlds) what painful choices or horrible events might lead to. I especially love when a reader is left with the element of hope. The thing that is personally difficult for me to see in teen literature is the passive girl who is only complete with her boyfriend by her side. Maybe this is part of the reason I write middle grade?

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

All the Class of 2k12 books, of course! (www.classof2k12.com)

Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

Reading, running, spending time with my husband and boys. I relish a simple, quiet life.

Thank you so much for your time, Caroline. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

I’m currently working on a picture book about the Louisiana wetlands and have begun another historical verse novel...details to come.

*

To learn more about Caroline and May B you can visit the following links:

- Website
- Blog
- Facebook
- Goodreads

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Reckless Chapter Titles of Joy

So every day Reckless gets a little more polished and feels a little bit closer to being finished. Or, finished enough that I stop tinkering with it and start my quest for an agent. I still have a way to go but the end is in sight. Scary, scary stuff.

I've just been filling out big sheets of paper with a timeline so I can check for continuity and fun things like that. Reckless is set (roughly) over a nine week period and as I've been going along and editing (and editing...and editing) I've plonked some names down to round up the general tone of each week, or part. I had a read through the nine titles earlier and they made me happy, as they pretty much do sum up the contents (and remarkable depth...) of my little book about boys and girls and gap years and hangovers. Folks, if you will:

Week One: Reckless Abandon
Week Two: Jock Quest
Week Three: Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy
Week Four: The Spark
Week Five: The Hugging Incident
Week Six: Le Flirt
Week Seven: Nicole's Week of Shit
Week Eight: Sexytimes
Week Nine: All's Well That Ends Well

And to finish, just a couple of the photos that are up on my mood boards in my writing room to help me settle back into the story whenever I sit down to write:



*

So there you go :). More Reckless updates soon!

Review: The Court Painter's Apprentice - Richard Knight

Published: January 1st 2012, Catnip
Pages: 175 pages, ARC
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

My review: If you look at this novel on paper, I probably shouldn't have enjoyed it very much. Firstly, it's a historical (no bitchy high school cheerleaders) and it's aimed at the age range 8+ (no chance of drunken debauchery at house parties). However, something about this one grabbed my attention and made really want to give it a go. I read The Court Painter's Apprentice in a single sitting, while I was ill in bed with a throat infection (nasty) and it completely and utterly cheered me up. What a lovely little novel!

This novel just feels timeless. It reminded me of hunching over my desk back when I was in primary school and poring over every book our school library had to offer. This reminded me of those childhood books that I read and read until the books were dog-eared with ragged spines. This is a book I can completely see myself reading aloud to my children (if I finally do deem it appropriate to respawn... If not, well, Bertie will enjoy it, I'm sure). It's just a classic tale of mystery and adventure, which will definitely appeal to both girls and boys. It's definitely a book that can cross over age ranges and I'm convinced a lot of older readers will love this book too. I think it's so important, especially for younger age ranges, that books are accessible and make reading fun, rather than a chore.

The tone of The Court Painter’s Apprentice definitely gets a lot darker as the storyline progresses but I loved this. I’m so glad Knight isn’t patronising to his audience; he doesn’t shy away from intense, atmospheric scenes that really are quite frightening. I really enjoyed that, despite being for younger readers, this one wasn’t too Disney. Not that Disney isn’t fricking awesome (Aladdin as the hottest cartoon character of all time, anyone?) but The Court Painter’s Apprentice felt real, despite the fantastic elements in the content.

The relatively short length of the novel is great, making it a quick read for younger readers who may not have the attention span to trawl through a 500 page epic. No words are wasted on unnecessary back story and long, rolling descriptions and the concise length really helped the sense of immediacy that was prevalent from beginning to end.

The Court Painter's Apprentice just goes to show how important it is to step outside of your comfort zone every so often. I do tend to get stuck in a cycle of contemporary YA (just typed 'YAY' instead of 'YA'. Tempted to leave it as it is but better correct it) and read about endless mean blonde girls and pretty boys with long eyelashes. Now, this is all well and good as not much in life makes me happier than a pretty boy with long eyelashes but sometimes I just need a little something else to reaffirm my love for reading. Novels like The Court Painter's Apprentice are just that kind of story. Polar opposite to what I usually choose but stunningly well written and absolutely charming from beginning to end. Hooray!

First line: 'Take a look in the mirror.'

Read if you liked…: The Toymaker - Jeremy de Quidt

Rating:
Plot: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Interview: Jodi Meadows - Incarnate

Hi everybody - I'm here today with a great interview with Jodi Meadows, a 2012 debut author. Her first novel 'Incarnate' is due out January 31st 2012 in the US - but you can nab it on Amazon or The Book Depository if you're a UK or international blogger. It's the first book in a new series that is sure to be huge and I cannot wait!

Without further ado I'll hand over to Jodi.


Hi, Jodi! In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Incarnate?

Incarnate is about the only girl who's new in a world where everyone else is perpetually reincarnated, and her quest to discover why she was born, and what happened to the person she replaced.

And if you need more than that, the cover copy is on my website and Goodreads.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

I really like working, so when I'm drafting a novel, that's pretty much what I do. It's all I can handle. My goals for getting through the first draft really depend on how I'm feeling that day, and how much I think I can reasonably accomplish. I like to set small, attainable goals. Every time I reach one, I feel awesome! Reaching lots of smaller goals adds up fast.

When I'm revising, if it's a huge rewrite that takes just as much focus and creativity as a first draft, I do the same thing. But once I'm editing and better-fying what's already on the page, I make myself do other things like sleep and bathe. (You're welcome for that.)

In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

I think the character has to be real. There has to be something about the character that makes the reader think this person could step out of the pages and be just as real and compelling and complicated as any one of their non-paper friends.

What sort of research did you have to do for Incarnate? How did you go about doing this?

I love using the internet for research. Wikipedia and national park websites totally saved me on knowing what wildlife might exist in my world, and what the climate might look like. (Ten points if you can guess which national park Range is based on.) I also looked up blogs and people's vacation photos to get me into places I couldn't go.

In addition to other big things, like pleading with professional musician friends to give me their thoughts on the music aspects of the story, I looked up lots of little--but important for to make the world look real--things, like where certain plants grow, whether my characters could actually have as much coffee as I'd like to give them, and how high a jump into water a person can take and still survive.

Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

Sometimes! Sometimes I need silence to get the right mood. Other times nothing but Vienna Teng will do. (I listened to her "Drought" on repeat for the entire first draft of Incarnate. I think my ferrets could probably sing along.) Instrumental music usually works best for me; unless I know a song really well, I get distracted by words. Ludovico Einaudi is one of my go-to composers. He has music for everything.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

I don't like to think of myself as one or the other. There's a huge spectrum in between! With Incarnate, I did a lot more plotting ahead of time than I had in the past. That worked out well. But I also left myself a lot of room for new ideas and directions in the story, which turned out to be super important. If I had stuck to my synopsis, I wouldn't have the masquerade. (Which you might recognize from the cover.)

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Incarnate? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

I first had the idea for Incarnate in July 2006. It looked hard. I put it away. For three years.

In October 2009, I started thinking about it again, writing some ideas, musing about the worldbuilding and society. I wrote synopses for three books. In November and early December 2009, I wrote the first draft of Incarnate. I took a month to revise, and then I queried agents. Agent Lauren called in the beginning of February and offered. We revised Incarnate a little more, and then submitted to editors. Editor Sarah offered on July 1 -- four years after my initial idea for Incarnate.

Incarnate moved really quickly for me, but it wasn't anything like an overnight success. I started writing full time in 2003, and Incarnate was . . . well into the double digits on the number of novel-length manuscripts I'd written.

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

That depends on the writer. Suzanne Collins and JK Rowling are doing just fine in spite of not having a huge web presence. For others, I think it definitely helps. But whether any author should do it? Only if they want to. It's a huge time commitment, and if you're not enjoying it, there are better ways to spend time. Like reading or writing. (Or having a life. I know people who have lives. . . .)

What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?

Like Mary Poppins, I am practically perfect in every way. (I wish.)

Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

Sometimes my characters come with names. Other times I have a feeling about what it might be, but I have to spend time on behindthename.com to find it.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing Incarnate? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

When I started writing Incarnate, I was actually at a very low point. I'd been getting the nicest rejections you'd ever seen, with people complimenting my writing, my worlds, my whatever. But they still said no.

With Incarnate, I told myself I didn't care whether it got published. And heck if it was a hard idea I didn't have the guts to write before, because I still didn't care whether it ever got published! So there! I set out to write a story that made me happy, made me think, and most of all, a story that challenged me. (Obviously my "I don't care so there!" attitude lasted about five seconds after I finished revising it, because I immediately set out looking for an agent. I don't think anyone was more surprised than me when offers happened.)

I did accomplish what I set out to do. Incarnate was a huge challenge and took lots of work, but I wrote the story I needed to write, the story I wanted to read, and the story that made me very, very happy. (And not just because the right people all said "yes.")

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

Absolutely. I was a busy teenager. I had a part time job, 20 hours of dance practice a week, 15 hours of music practice a week, and something called school I sort of recall. I had a very strong work ethic -- and I still do. I loved getting things done and making things perfect. I also loved reading, fuzzy animals, and chocolate.

Not much has changed since I was a teenager, now that I think about it.

There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

Like most authors, I think teens are smart creatures. They're pretty good at self-censoring when they come upon something that may be too mature for them.

But I also think that, while a small number of adults shouldn't dictate what all teens read, it would be awesome if parents of teens were more involved in what their kids are reading. Even if they don't have time or desire to read it themselves, they can talk to people who do: librarians, booksellers, and reviews online. There are so many places where a parent can find information on books.

And while I have my soapbox -- let's cheer for teens reading. Period.

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

Oh a whole slew of books! Some I've read already: Everneath by Brodi Ashton; Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi; The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson; Hourglass 2 by Myra McEntire; A Million Suns by Beth Revis.

And some I have the WANTS for: Defiance by C.J. Redwine; Glitch by Heather Anastasiu; Shine by Jeri Smith-Ready; Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins; Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood; Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock; Article 5 by Kristin Simmons.

There are SO many books I can't wait to read. If I tried to list them all, we'd be here all night. A good place to start for books I yearn to read: the Apocalypsies pages.

Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

I like knitting and spinning. I find yarn crafts incredibly relaxing, almost meditative. I usually have a knitting project by my keyboard so I can knit whenever I pause to think about the story. (Five points for every knitted item you find in Incarnate.) I have a spinning wheel in my living room; I like to spin while watching movies and TV shows.

Thank you so much for your time, Jodi. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

I can't tell you anything specific, I'm afraid, but I can give you a hint: for the project I'm currently working on, I researched supernovas.


So there you have it! Massive thanks to Jodi for taking the time to visit Writing From the Tub and for giving me such a great interview. I can't wait to read Incarnate when it comes out - counting down the days until my pre-order arrives!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Review: Chocolate S.O.S - Sue Limb

Published: January 15th 2012, Bloomsbury
Pages: 294 pages, paperback
Series?: Yes, this is book six (I think... Don't quote me on that) in the series
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Jess has broken up with Fred, though really she is waiting for him to come to her door and beg to get back together again. But is that the sort of thing Fred would do? He has said himself that he has no backbone...

Meanwhile, a gorgeous boy has moved in next door and, to Jess's mingled horror and delight, is making it very, very obvious that he would like to be a lot closer than next door... Surely, now, Fred will be driven, in a fit of jealousy, to sweep Jess back off her feet? Won't he?


Full of Sue Limb's very funny take on early teenage life and problems, fans of Jess Jordan will be thrilled to have a new Fred and Jess story.


My review: Sue Limb is just brilliant. It's always such a treat to receive a copy of one of her books and I've thoroughly enjoyed everything of hers that I've read. She absolutely stands up as an important writer for tween girls, alongside Samantha Mackintosh, Cathy Cassidy, (overlord of hilarious books for girls) Louise Rennison and all of those other wonderful ladies who are flying the flag to make reading accessible (and vampire free) to younger teens.

*Gasp* Fred and Jess have split up? Nooo. I loved these guys as a couple, as I said in my review of Girl, 16: Five Star Fiasco, which I read and reviewed last year. They had a great relationship, built on a foundation of fun and friendship and were both great role models for any younger readers to take inspiration from. However, the course of true love never did run smooth and the series certainly wouldn't be as interesting if there weren't a few bumps in the road for our heroine, Jess.

Anybody who's been through a break up will absolutely sympathise with Jess, who obviously needs copious amounts of chocolate and friends to get over what happened between her and Fred (hence the title of the book). Although, nothing will help you get over a break up quite like an attractive new neighbour, will it? Enter Luke, a gorgeous boy who is exactly what Jess needs to cheer her up.

I thought Luke was a great character, of course he did provide a lot of the drama in Chocolate S.O.S. but not through any fault of his own, he's a welcome addition to the existing cast and I loved the way he interacted with the various characters in Jess' story, especially Jess herself. Watching their relationship develop and change throughout the book was great and the ending was just fab!

Chocolate S.O.S. is another hit for Limb, who goes from strength to strength with whatever she brings out. I'll be keeping my eyes firmly peeled for the next book in the series, Party Disaster, when it's released this summer. And you jolly well should be, too!

First line: 'No!' breathed Flora. 'I can't believe it! You and Fred haven't really split up, have you, babe?'

Read if you liked…: Lula Does the Hula - Samantha Mackintosh

Rating:
Plot: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 14/20 (B)

Friday, 13 January 2012

Blog Tour: C. J. Daugherty (Night School)

Hello folks! I've got the lovely C. J. Daugherty with me today for my stop on the Night School blog tour. She's here to talk about 'paranormal vs. normal' and how normal can be so much more scarier than paranormal.

Without further ado, I'll hand you over to C. J.:


Paranormal vs. Normal

I originally envisioned Night School as a paranormal book – with vampires and witches. After I’d completed it, though, my editor at Atom asked me to consider re-writing it as a non-paranormal book.

She thought there was a lot of excitement to be found from putting a group of ordinary teenagers in a beautiful but dark school where the adults around them weren’t doing the sorts of things you would normally expect adults to do.

At first I wasn’t convinced. I loved the freedom that paranormal fiction gave me. If I needed to get characters from one side of the school grounds to another, they could fly and be there in seconds. If I needed an increase in drama, a brutal attack with swords and teeth was completely possible.

I knew that dropping all of that and summoning drama out of more believable, real-world style events would be harder.

But when I tried it, in many ways it was actually easier. Once I removed the paranormal elements, I remembered how scary ordinary life can be. How frightening it can sometimes be just to walk down a dark, quiet city street late at night. How your heart can begin to thump in your ears when you’re walking in the woods and suddenly nothing looks familiar anymore.

Using those kinds of elements to unsettle my characters, I began to create a moody, threatening atmosphere in which any ordinary person would feel jumpy.

And I have to say I absolutely loved doing it. Using more realistic elements to frighten my characters worked so well for me that sometimes when I was writing it I scared myself.

However, none of this is to take away from how scary and exciting paranormal fiction can be. When blood-sucking creatures who want to kill you fly at you with super-human speed? Well, that’s always going to be jump-out-of-your-seat frightening.

And I’m always going to love reading, and maybe even some day, writing about that.

But for now I’m enjoying tapping into the kinds of fears we have all faced from time to time, in a world that always seems to be going somewhat mad.

*

YES! Big up scary books that aren't paranormal. I really, really enjoyed Night School and I can't wait to see what C. J. does next!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Interview: Megan Miranda (Fracture)

Good morning readers, I'm here today with my first interview of 2012! Megan Miranda is here to tell us a little bit about her writing process and her debut YA novel, Fracture. I've already read so many rave reviews of this one so I can't wait to get stuck into my copy!


Hi, Megan! In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Fracture?

Sure! Fracture is about a girl who survives 11-minutes trapped under the ice of a Maine lake and awakens from a coma 6-days later, despite brain scans that show irreparable damage. She soon discovers that she’s drawn to the dying, but she doesn’t know whether she’s predicting death of causing it.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

I have 2 small children, and at least 1 of them is home with me most of the time. For revisions, or if a deadline is rapidly approaching, I’ll call in the babysitters, but for the most part, I’m a night-time writer. I don’t have a word count goal, honestly. I spend a lot of time when I’m not writing thinking about writing, so when I finally sit down at the computer, I usually have a good idea of the scenes I want to get down. Sometimes the words come easily. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I write a chapter. Sometimes more, sometimes less. For revisions, I do set concrete goals, but when I’m drafting, the only goal I set for myself is to sit down and write. Every night.

In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

I definitely agree. I think the most important thing is to give yourself over to that character. The plot is not in charge; the character is. I think if you get that part right (making sure the motivations stay true to the character), everything else falls into place. Like you said, bonding with the main character is really the key, so I think creating that emotional connection is pivotal. Make someone feel, and hopefully you’ll make someone care.

What sort of research did you have to do for Fracture? How did you go about doing this?

I went to school for science, so a lot of the science information comes from my background. But I did read a lot of first-hand accounts of people who had fallen through the ice, people who experienced near-drownings—how they survived, or how they didn’t. How they were rescued, or how they weren’t.

The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Fracture apart from the pack?

I think Fracture falls on the cusp of two genres. When I began writing, I came at the story from the science angle and wrote it with what I considered a contemporary, real-world feel. When I finished, I realized that it was technically paranormal, which is really just something that can’t yet be explained by science. I hope that fans of both contemporary and paranormal will enjoy Fracture.

Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

I actually don’t. I don’t like any noise when I’m writing. Not even a car passing by the window…

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

I am a pantser…at first. This usually results in a giant mess, so then I go back and plot everything out. But at that point, I know my characters pretty well, so it feels more natural. I can’t plot from scratch.

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Fracture? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

I wrote the first words of Fracture I believe at the start of July, 2009. The story came fast, and I started querying agents in October of 2009… at which point I realized I really should’ve plotted more. I signed with my agent in November, 2009 after we discussed that I’d probably need to rewrite all of it—but she took the leap, and so did I. I rewrote Fracture from scratch. Twice. It took 6 more months to get it right. She sent it out to publishers in May 2010, Walker/Bloomsbury pre-empted it, and I am so, so happy there!

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

I’m not sure. I think the book, the writing, always needs to come first. That said, I love Twitter and Facebook because of all the people I’ve met. I really enjoy social media now… But… I don’t want to say it’s not important, but I think if you don’t want to do it, it’s not the biggest deal in the world. You can’t do everything, and at the end of the day, the book wins. Truth is, before my first book sold, I didn’t do any of it (except for a personal Facebook page). I’m very glad I do it now, but not doing it didn’t hurt in terms of getting an agent or a publishing deal.


Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

In theory it is, but the names just….come. So by the end of a draft, I’ll read through and think, “Seriously? That’s her name?” But by then, she’s in my head that way, and I can’t think of her as anything else.

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

Definitely. I loved to read the darker classics, and that was definitely reflected in my early writing. But the other half of me was a science geek who loved research—it took me until recently to fully merge those two sides of me. But they were there even when I was a teenager.

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

There are so many books I’m excited about it 2012! I’ve read a few great debuts recently: UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi & SLIDE by Jill Hathaway.

Thank you so much for your time, Megan. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

I have another stand-alone psychological thriller set to come out in early 2013. It’s in the same vein as Fracture, in that I think it walks the line a bit between the science and the paranormal, but it’s also very different from Fracture. It’s about psychological things that can manifest into the physical, the thin line between the real and the imagined, and memories.

Thanks so much for having me!

*

There you have it. I loved reading Megan's answers, especially hearing how her journey from first draft to publication went. It was pretty quick from first draft to publication if you ask me!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Review: Cinder - Marissa Meyer (Debut Author)

Published: January 5th 2012, Puffin
Pages: 372 pages, ARC
Series?: Yes, this is the first out of four
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.


In this thrilling debut young adult novel, the first of a quartet, Marissa Meyer introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine and a masterfully crafted new world that’s enthralling.


My review: The first thing that attracted me to Cinder was the stunning cover, I'm not going to lie. I absolutely love it and I think it's going to command so much attention in bookshops and online browsing. It definitely transcends a number of different cover art stereotypes for various genres, which is going to really help the book become more accessible to, for example, readers who usually only read contemporary novels.

There is a big revelation towards the end of Cinder and this is where I felt a little let down, as I'd guessed it within a few chapters of the story beginning. I'm not sure if that will be the case for everybody but I am usually famously slow on the uptake so I'm assuming most people will probably have the twist figured out quite quickly.

Prince Kai is your run of the mill dystopian hero; gorgeous, confused by the state of the world around him and a bit nicey nicey. Of course, he and Cinder are attracted to each other from the outset etc etc. I don't need to go into any more detail in regards to the love story, as you've all definitely read it a thousand times before. However! There is a bit of a shocker towards the end of Cinder that had me cheering. So in the last thirty or so pages of the book you can forget everything you thought you knew about predictable, stale love stories. Thank God for that - Marissa Meyer, you win many points to avoiding the ending I have to admit I thought you were going to go for!

The mythology in Cinder was interesting and definitely original so big props to Meyer for that. I liked learning more about the Lunars and their Bitch-Ass Queen, who was a stereotypical fairytale villain in all her glory. This was a good thing. I bet she has very severe eyebrows.

This is definitely a very traditional 'first in a series' novel; so many questions are raised and very few are answered, though there's a big ole cliff hanger to make sure we're back for round two when it's released. I love, love, loved the little hint as to which fairytale princess we're going to meet in book two. At least, I hope that's who we're going to meet. We'll see in 2013!

First line: 'The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.'

Rating:
Plot: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 5/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Alternative cover:

(Spanish edition)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Blog Tour: Don't Call Me Ishmael - Michael Gerard Bauer

Hello folks! Today is my stop on the blog tour for Michael Gerard Bauer (an action hero name if ever I heard one) and his brilliant YA book, Don't Call Me Ishmael. I asked Michael a few questions about music and how it influences his writing process - have a look below to see what he had to say.

I do host quite a lot of guest posts here at Writing from the Tub but this is definitely one of my favourites. I found myself laughing out loud at some of Michael's responses and it was fascinating to read about the part music has played in his writing life, especially when it comes to the sequel to Don't Call Me Ishmael.

Now I'll hand you over to Michael, while I scurry off to listen to some Bob Dylan!


Hi from Brisbane, Australia and thanks so much for inviting me into The Tub!

Do you listen to music when you are writing or plotting?

Music has always been a big part of my life. I love music. I play guitar (badly) and sing (even worse) and have tried to write my own songs (head for the hills!). When I was in my late teens and early twenties I had dreams of being a singer-songwriter like Bob Dylan and my early writing influences probably derive more from songwriters than novelists.

So obviously the answer to the question, Do you listen to music when you’re writing or plotting? is … ‘No way!’

I tried once, but I couldn’t do it. I just ended up listening to the songs. Maybe I like music too much to have it on as just a background thing? Maybe I chose the wrong songs to play? Maybe I just can’t multi-task? Maybe I’m too easily distracted? Ooooh look, four questions in a row! What was I talking about again?


Do certain songs inspire you?

I may not be able to write along to music but there are many songs that inspire me. I would love to be able to capture the mood and feeling of some of my favourite songs particularly in a serious novel. I think playing these songs before I write might work for me. Jackson Browne’s beautiful song Sky Blue and Black is one I might choose. http://youtu.be/Fz_sOnO9D24

Does Don’t Call Me Ishmael have a theme song or playlist?

Don’t Call Me Ishmael doesn’t really have a theme song or playlist but music plays an important part in the series. Ishmael’s dad is an ex-member of a short lived cult rock band from the 80s called The Dugongs. He’s also a big Beatles and Bob Dylan fan (a bit like someone else I know).

In fact in the sequel to Don’t Call Me Ishmael not only do we find out that Ishmael’s sister Prue gets her name from the Beatles’ song Dear Prudence, but also that Ishmael’s dad believes that the Beatles were responsible for turning Prue into a near-genius and also saving her life!

So I‘m thinking now that maybe it should have a Beatle’s playlist?

For Ishmael’s battles with bully Barry Bagsley – Help!
For his love for Kelly Faulkner – Something or I’ve Got To Get You Into My Life.
For his struggles with Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome – I’m a Loser or Carry That Weight.
And for his fear of speaking in public and maybe the over all theme song for the book – I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.

Music becomes even more central to the second Ishmael book. The sequel really does have its own built-in playlist because the nine sections of the story are introduced by lyrics from nine Dugong’s.

On the German audio version of Ishmael 2, a Hamburg band called Gone Fishin’ played and recorded the songs (in English) that I wrote for the book. Amazingly, in 2010, I got to play all those songs with the band live on stage at the White Ravens Children’s Literature Festival in Munich.

It was one of the highlights of my life to be in a band and play songs I had written. For a brief moment there I finally became the singer-songwriter I dreamed of being when I was young. The American author John Green (Saving Alaska, Paper Towns) was also at the Festival and he features a bit of the concert at the end of one of his famous vlogbrothers videos: http://youtu.be/rTzsShHWGPE.


You know, with all this musical influence coming from his dad, it wouldn’t surprise me if sometime in the not-too-distant future, Ishmael and the Razzman and the rest of his mad mates ended up forming their own rock band. Now that would be something to read about!

Thanks once again to Writing From The Tub for the great topic and for allowing me to chat with your fabulous readers.

Cheers from Down Under!
Michael

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For more information about Michael and his work you can visit his blog or Facebook page.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Review: Saving Daisy - Phil Earle

Published: 5th January 2012, Puffin
Pages: 338 pages, paperback
Series?: Companion novel to 2010's Being Billy
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Losing love, fighting guilt, seeking hope.

Daisy’s mum is gone. Her dad refuses to talk about it and as far as Daisy’s concerned, it’s all her fault…

Saving Daisy is a powerful and moving story that follows the life of Daisy Houghton who first featured in Phil Earle’s critically acclaimed debut, Being Billy.

As Daisy struggles with misplaced guilt over her mother’s death, she turns to extreme and violent measures and soon her life starts spiralling out of control. This leads to tragedy and suddenly Daisy finds herself left all alone. But sometimes the kindness of a stranger can turn things around. A stranger who desperately wants to save Daisy – if she’ll only let herself be saved.

My review: Being Billy was one of the first books I reviewed in 2011 and definitely one of my favourites. I waited patiently allllll through 2011 for Saving Daisy and I finally managed to get my hands on a copy just before Christmas. I loved Being Billy so much, so I had massively high expectations for Saving Daisy. Did it deliver? Abso-bloody-lutely.

We met Daisy in Being Billy so already know that she's a strong, funny, brave character when we follow her story in Saving Daisy. However, instead of picking up where Being Billy left of, we actually jump back to Daisy's life before the events in Being Billy take place. The Daisy we meet this time around is much more fragmented, nervous and guilt-ridden, a shadow of Billy's friend we already know and love. There are traces of her sparky personality and sense of humour but these are buried under years of blaming herself for her mother's death and a strained relationship with her father.

The journey Daisy embarks on is staggering and we see her grow and grow with every unthinkable challenge that is thrown at her. With the help of a cast of amazing characters (especially Ade, who I'm sure everybody is going to adore) Daisy goes from strength to strength as the ultimate proof that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Honestly, I think both Saving Daisy and Being Billy should be mandatory reading for anybody who thinks putting on a few pounds over Christmas or Twitter being down for a couple of hours is genuinely something to complain about - first world problems, eh?

Particularly towards the ending of the story I loved how a few events that happen in Being Billy are hinted at - sorry to be so vague but I don't want to post any spoilers in case any of you haven't read Being Billy. I'm actually interested to reread Being Billy now to see if there's anything new I pick up on now I know more of Daisy's story. It was definitely a very interesting idea for the stories to be revealed in this order, I found that learning about Daisy's past made her seem even stronger and more resilient than I first thought she was.

There are some brilliant characters in Saving Daisy who are definitely memorable, for both good and bad reasons. Ade, of course, as I mentioned earlier, is sure to be a favourite - I thought she was fantastic, so fully realised that I'm sure she must be at least partially based on a real person. Mr Hobson as well, is one I'm sure I'll remember for a long time to come - I certainly didn't see that coming! Naomi was the other character, aside from Daisy, who made me think the most and she reminded me a lot of Lisa R from Girl, Interrupted; cruel and tragic in equal measure.

Saving Daisy definitely makes you think and I defy any one of you who can make it through the book without welling up - I know I had a cheeky cry on more than one occasion!

First line: 'You can tell how good a party is by the time that the walls start sweating.' (One of my favourite opening lines ever and so bloody true!)

Read if you liked…: The Zelah Green series - Vanessa Curtis

Rating:
Plot: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 18/20 (A)

Friday, 6 January 2012

Interview: Robin Mellom (Ditched)

Today I've got Robin Mellom with me, talking about her debut YA novel, Ditched, which is sure to brighten up the grey, dull days that I'm sure we're all tiring of. I know I am, after having ten glorious days off over Christmas I'm definitely not best pleased to be back at work.

I featured Ditched in my 'Debut novels I can't wait for in 2012' post in December and I'm happy to say we only have to wait four short days until the book is released on the 10/01/2012 in the US - of course, us non-US types can order Ditched from Amazon or The Book Depository.


Hi, Robin! In case any readers haven’t heard about the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Ditched?

How about a quick summary! A 16-year-old girl finds herself lying in a ditch the morning after her prom with no memory of the last twelve hours, which includes a disappearing prom date and a punk Tinkerbell tattoo. She must piece together—stain-by-stain on her thrift store dress—exactly how she ended up dateless…with only the help of some opinionated ladies at the 7-Eleven.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

It depends, of course, on whether I’m drafting a new novel or experiencing “the crazies” of revisions due on deadline. On a typical drafting day, I give myself a page count, usually 5-8 pages a day. Deadline days usually mean 12-14 hours of working-while-eating-junk-food.

In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

I love when characters have things they love and don’t love. They are small details that define us and become almost comforting. In my own life, my friends and family know that I will never drink coffee that is lukewarm—if it’s not practically scorching, it’s worthless. And if you quote a line from the movie The Jerk, I will love you. So it’s awesome to know book characters in small ways as well as BIG ways.

The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Ditched apart from the pack?

I focused on humor and romp. I wanted it to be entertaining—just an overall good time. There are moments of tenderness, but mostly it’s about tattoos and Chihuahuas and run-ins with the police. Maybe Romp-i-ness could be the new Dystopian?

Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

Yes! I have several stations on Pandora I listen to while writing and, strangely, it’s not usually music I listen to in my *personal life. When I write, I need upbeat dance music so I rely on Britney Spears and Rihanna to get me through.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

Both. I get an idea and just start writing—usually a couple of chapters so I can get a feel for the voice and if it’s something I’m truly excited about. THEN I sit down and outline the snot out of it! But my outlines often change as I write the book.

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Ditched? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

I had written five other novels before writing Ditched, mostly middle grade. My agent came to me and said she’d like to see me try teen humor for girls. The process of writing this book and getting it published was rather dreamy (thank goodness!). It took me about 5-6 months to write it. Within in weeks of submitting there were three publishers interested and within a month I had accepted a 2-book offer from Disney-Hyperion. (It still freaks me out to say that!)

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

It’s important to have a way for readers/writers/friends to connect with you and to keep you sane! I write at home full time now, so Twitter/Facebook have become like my personal water cooler—a place to chat and decompress and find out other wonderful news. What a cool thing! The only downside, obviously, is if it impedes on your writing time but having a writing deadline will take care of that quick!

What did you hope to accomplish by writing Ditched? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

I want readers to have a good time and come away with a smile, even while maybe shedding a tear. According to my mom, I accomplished that! :)

Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

We live on a bay in California so if I’m not in my office, you can find me kayaking or hiking. And then watching Modern Family. And then The Daily Show. And then waiting for The Hunger Games movie.

Thank you so much for your time, Robin. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

I have a middle grade series coming out from Disney-Hyperion in June called THE CLASSROOM—it’s a mockumentary of life in 7th grade (oh, the awkwardness!) and then the companion novel for DITCHED comes out winter ’13…someone goes to jail in BUSTED!

Thanks for interviewing me!