Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!!

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday of the year. Costumes, candy, spookiness everywhere, what's not to love? :)

So, to all of you planning to celebrate, have fun, and don't get sick on the candy! Well, not too sick. Oh, what am I thinking? Eat candy until your sides are splitting, then eat some more! :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Plot Summary: Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Some time ago, I picked up THE BOOK THIEF with low expectations. I thought it odd that the main character was a girl, yet the narrator was Death, and didn't think it would come across well in the story. I was pleasantly surprised. :) So, I headed out to pick up other books by the same author, and selected I AM THE MESSENGER.

The story starts out well, piquing my interest and keeping me glued to the pages. Ed’s growth is fantastic. He questions his place in life, steps up to do the things he needs to in order to better his life, as well as the lives of those around him. Each mission he accepts makes him stronger, more sure of himself, and more interesting. He goes from a passive observer to an active member of life, and the writer geek in me was giddy with glee.

Then, we find out who’s behind Ed’s mission...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

After Ed receives his final mission, a mysterious man appears. It turns out he’s been responsible for the whole thing. The missions, the events, people’s reactions, everything. Absolutely everything.

In fiction, who is the only person that can be responsible for everything that happens in a story? The author. That’s right. The mysterious man who comes to talk to Ed is the author. Markus Zusak. I screamed “are you kidding me?” then nearly threw the book across the room. Nearly, because I can't bring myself to actually throw a book. But this is the closest I've ever come.

If Zusak had simply appeared, said “I did all this to you because I wanted to. Sorry, kid,” and then walked away, I’d have still liked this book. But he didn’t. He sat down, rehashed every single aspect of the story, explaining how it has led to Ed’s growth as a better person. Basically, he told us everything he'd already shown us throughout the entire story.

I haven’t been so insulted as a reader since...well, since never. I am perfectly capable of reading a story and gleaning what the author wants to say, as well as taking away my own meaning. It seemed like Zusak didn’t think that I, or any of his readers, was capable of doing this. So he stuck himself in there just to make sure.

Honestly, I’ve never had such a violently negative reaction to a book before, so I'm unfamiliar with this territory. According to Amazon, this book is classified as YA. I’m wondering what young adults think of this book, and whether they would agree or disagree with me. Anyone know?

Monday, October 27, 2008

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo

Every November, the National Novel Writing Month website charges writers to write 50,000 words in one month. It starts at 12:01am, November 1st, and ends at 12:00am, November 30th. Once you’ve finished, you upload your novel to their website, where they run a script to check your word count, then issue a PDF winner’s certificate and web badge. They do not check content, just word count.

There are a lot of people on both sides of the spectrum for this exercise. Some people balk at the idea of churning out so much so quickly, because the quality of the writing could suffer. Some people find it exhilarating to turn off their inner editor and crank out whatever pops into their heads. A lot of people ask “is this something I should do?”

My answer? It depends. :) I know, very non-committal.

Personally, this is something I'd never be able to do. At least, not the way everyone else does it. I can write quickly, but my writing doesn’t thrive under these circumstances. I *know* that if I churn out 50,000 words in a month, without editing as I go, it’s going to be terrible. And I’ll likely have to rewrite the majority of it - I'd rather start over then overhaul a manuscript like this. Because I already know this, I’ll have no motivation to finish it. So I'd have to do it differently.

50,000 words in thirty days breaks down to 1667 words per day. Except I can't work weekends, and there are five weekends (totaling ten days) during the month of November. That means I'd have to get all my writing done in twenty days, which is 2500 words per day. I could probably do that...but then, there's my writing process to consider.

When I write, I don’t think about word count. I think about the story, have a “road map” in mind, and let the word count emerge on its own. If I was targeting a specific word count, my story would suffer. And that’s like sticking a knife in my heart and twisting... Also, when I'm writing a new story, I have to have the beginning absolutely perfect before I can move on to the rest. In my head, everything comes out of the beginning. So, if it isn't right, then my story is heading in the wrong direction. So I spend a lot of time on my beginning, rewriting a zillion times. But, once I've got it settled, the rest of the story quickly falls into place.

So, if I participated in NANO, I'd have to set myself a 2500 word count per day, but not be concerned with the cumulative word count. I may or may not finish by the end of the month, but I suspect writing with so many "buddies" would be so much fun that I wouldn't mind not getting the cool web badge to put on my website. :)

There are others who absolutely love NANO just the way it is. Some need this kind of permission to turn off the inner editor. Some just want to see if they can write so much in such a short time span. Some may be exploring their own writing process. And some just find it fun. Originally, I'd decided not do NANO. But now I'm thinking it might be fun, so I signed up. And who cares if I "win?" :)

So, if NANO is something you’re considering but you don’t know whether or not to do it, ask yourself this: what do you want to get out of it? A completed novel? The chance to explore an idea with no rules limiting you? A test to see if you can write 50,000 words in a month? That cool web badge? Whatever the reason, if you think you’ll get something out of it, then go for it! If you don't think you'll get anything out of it, well... :)

A big reason I'm doing this is for the comraderie, and I'd love to be your writing buddy. Drop me a line or look me up if you like. My Nano ID is 'tabwriter.'

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Respect

I try hard to keep this a writing blog and don't generally inject my own personal stuff...except for these occasional weekend posts. :)

I just gotta say that people seem different lately. Not sure if it's because Election Day is rapidly approaching, and this election has some seriously charged emotions behind it. Which is great, because that means people are getting involved. And I hope this means everyone will get out and vote.

What concerns me is the manner in which some of these people are speaking. I actually got involved in a couple political discussions, and this is something I NEVER do. My political beliefs are very personal, and, hence, very private. I haven't said (and won't say) who I'm voting for, but I have pointed out a few inconsistencies here and there. They were met with some flippant, even insulting, comments. I politely asked one commenter why she was speaking that way to me, and her answer was "It's a free country and I'll say what I want." She went on to say that she can take what she dishes out, which makes it okay.

Huh? When did it become okay to insult people simply because you can handle insults in return?

I believe in free speech. I will most certainly speak up if I believe something needs to be said. That's partly why I want to be a writer, because I've got something to say. And, because I'm a writer, I've got a really thick skin and can take some pretty heavy insults. But does that mean I should dish it out just because I can take it? I don't think so.

I believe in the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. If I went around insulting others, then, according to this rule, that translates into me wanting them to insult me back. Except I don't. Who does? No one I know. I'm sure the snarky woman doesn't want it either. She can take it, sure, but wanting it is very different.

I don't know...maybe I'm just old-fashioned. Even though I'm not old. :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Plot Summary: Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

The premise of this novel is so powerful that, while I was reading, I had many an urge to fill every nook and cranny of my kitchen with non-perishable foods. Probably because I’m a mom, and just the idea of my family being in that situation makes me want to prepare for it. :)

As for the book itself, I enjoyed it. Most of the characters were interesting, some of the messages were a bit one-sided, but it’s still a very powerful story.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

After finishing this book, I read several reviews that slammed the author on her lack of research in science, incomplete portrayal of religion, and flat characters. So, here’s my take on things.

First, let’s look at a few characters that, for me, really stood out. The rest of the characters weren’t nearly as interesting. I think they could have been if we’d seen more of them. But, as it is...

Miranda: a typical teen pushed into an atypical situation – natural events on the scale of the apocalypse. Some teens, when put into extreme situations, will grow up quickly and do what they need to do to help out. Especially in matters of survival, which is what this story is all about. Miranda doesn’t. Some may see that as selfishness, others may see it as denial and wanting to hold on to some semblance of normal. I think the second is what the author was going for, but it didn’t always come across that way. Still, I liked her and enjoyed seeing her grow as a person into doing everything she could to help her family survive.

Mom: I read a few reviews that really criticized the author for turning the mom into a snarling hoard-monster. I can completely understand why she kept food and supplies for only immediate family. Mom Instincts kicked in, and she *had* to provide for her family. That meant she would go without, which she did, and so would everyone else. She’s responsible for her family, no one else is. If her family starves, it’s her fault for not preparing better. That’s a huge burden to bear, and not many would handle it well. Mom didn’t, but her heart was certainly in the right place. Because of this, I thought she was very realistic, if not completely likable.

Megan: Initially, she was annoying, but clearly Miranda’s friend. After one particular scene, however, I hated her. It was the scene in the lunchroom, after Miranda has asked Megan to eat instead of giving half of her food away to the other kids. Megan looks right at Miranda, then gives away *all* of her food. That, plus her continuous holier-than-thou attitude made me wonder why Miranda was even friends with her. I can understand friendship loyalty, but this went too far. Megan went too far.

This leads me to the religious aspect of the book. Many reviewers have said this book paints a one-sided view of Christians. And, I have to say that I agree. The only Christians portrayed are Megan, who I’ve already discussed, and her pastor, who is a selfish extremist. There are Christians in this world who are like this. And there are other Christians who are the opposite. In this kind of story, I’d guess there would be many Christians doing good things, as well as the ones like Megan and her pastor. There would probably be atheists and agnostics converting as well, because that can happen in seriously scary times like this. I think a rounder representation of Christianity would have made the story deeper and richer, because I’d think everyone would be considering his immortal soul...even if he hadn’t believed in it before.

The last thing left is the science. This actually gave me great pause. When the meteor first hits the moon, the effects are instantaneous. Now, I’m not a scientist, or an expert, but I do know a little something about how things move in space. If the moon were hit so hard that it shifted orbit, I don’t think we’d see the effect immediately. There’s a lot of space in space, so, even if something is moving along at a good speed, it still takes a long time to get from point A to point B. Also, once something is moving, it doesn’t stop.

In this story, the meteor hitting the moon is described as pushing the moon sideways, and then it got sort of bigger. Essentially, it shifted into a closer orbit over the period of a few minutes. Realistically, we would see these changes take place over a few days, not a few minutes. If the moon was moving so fast that you could see it get closer to Earth in just a few minutes, that means it’s moving at a seriously fast pace. Which means the impact would have been so intense, large chunks of the moon would have come off. Plus, once it got that much momentum going, it’s not going to stop. It would crash into Earth, effectively ending Life As We Know It.

I do think the author should have made this more realistic. It would have made the premise that much more powerful. And, considering how powerful it already is, can you imagine how amazing the story would have been? Off the charts. Just goes to show how important research is.

Still, this is a story that’s tough to put down. I wanted to know how in the world they were going to keep on going with a disaster like this. I’m glad to say that the ending wasn’t fairy-tale-like, yet had a glimmer of hope that left me with a smile on my face. Good book.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Author Interview with PJ Hoover

Welcome to an interview with debut author, PJ Hoover! Her first book, THE EMERALD TABLET, hits shelves next week. I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. In fact, let's hear more about it.

Welcome, PJ! Can you tell us about your book?
Hi Tabitha! The Emerald Tablet is a fast-paced middle grade science fiction novel aimed at kids 8-14. It’s the story of five kids who find out not only are they from a world hidden under the Pacific Ocean, they aren’t even human! And if that’s not enough, after only a day on their new sunken continent, they discover they need to save the world.

It sounds exciting! What was the inspiration behind your idea?
Too much TV watching during my youth!
The initial idea came from a show on in the early 80s—The Powers of Matthew Star. As coincidence may have it, Matthew Star was not a human (though he was an alien and my characters are not aliens), he was from another world (once again, he’s from outer space, not under the sea), and he had special powers like telekinesis (OK, this is the same). He lived among the “normal” humans and had to hide his powers, all while working toward a greater purpose.
The Powers of Matthew Star only aired for a few months. Let’s hope The Emerald Tablet is around for much longer!

I'm sure it will be. :) How many drafts did you go through?
Really, I never count drafts. Bad answer, I know, but each read through with anything changed can technically count as a draft, right?
To try to figure it out, my guess is I’ve read The Emerald Tablet close to 50 times by this point.
But yes, I will still read the final, published book! Most probably in a public place where everyone can see the cover and ask what it is. And if/when I find a typo, I won’t even circle it.

Good for you. :) As for the rest of us, 50 read-throughs! Puts things in perspective... How many drafts did your editor go through with you?
Probably four initially before I signed. Then, a year later, before the ARC, I did another revision and submitted it to her which she edited and I revised a final time.

How long did it take to find your editor? And are you agented?
I flew all the way to the SCBWI NY conference where I met my editor who happens to live in Austin, TX, also! I started working with her about five months after I started submitting The Emerald Tablet.
I am agented, though only since this past March. When I started looking for an agent, it took about five months, also.
Hmmm…something about that five month time frame I guess. :)

How do you get to know your characters?
Character motivations seem like the most crucial part of understanding a character. When we look at our own lives, everything we do, we do for a reason. Sometimes it’s nice to step back and ask yourself why you are doing something and be totally honest with the answer. I force myself to ask the questions on character motivations and answer them. I have motivation spreadsheets where I make sure each character has sufficient reason for being.
But I’ve also heard a nice idea recently of taking a character out for tea (or a beer as the case might be). This I plan to try next. Especially for the antagonists!

What was your favorite part of writing this book? Least favorite?
Favorite part of The Emerald Tablet was my first revision with my editor. She gave the most amazing feedback! I needed to cut huge chunks of backstory. Add scenes. Shift scenes around. It was perfect and just the kind of feedback needed to get inspired again for revisions!
Least favorite—rejections. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say more about that!

How does it feel to have your first book on the shelves?
Weird. Hard to believe. Like normal people can get books published. Who’d have thought?

How did you get in to writing for kids?
I’ve always loved Fantasy and Science Fiction, and after I had kids, MG/YA seemed like the natural choice. Like I could contribute something that they may like to read one day. I don’t like to be too serious, and writing for kids makes this much easier.

What are you working on now?
Revising books 2 and 3 of The Forgotten Worlds Books!
Also I’m working on a MG urban fantasy series with an Egyptian slant and an upper-YA urban fantasy with a hint of Greek mythology.

Do you work on one project at a time, or multiple?
Normally I like to get through a draft or revision without interruption. But once a revision is done and simmering, I’ll pick something else up and work on it. I’ve stopped in the middle of projects to work on others, but find this hurts the momentum big time!

Are you a planner, or do you write by the seat of your pants?
Planner—though I am experimenting with different levels of planning. Once book I spent two months doing nothing but planning before writing a single word. Another book I spent about two days and then wrote the first draft. Much of the planning still needs to be done (like character development worksheets and such), but it’s fun to try different methods.
Plus, sometimes I’m just not patient enough to wait before writing!

Are you a paper person, or the computer-only-type?
Computer only! Always! If I ever dared hand write anything, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to read it.

What are your favorite reference books? And why?
There are tons of great ones, but I’ll go with:
Fiction First Aid by Raymond Obstfeld because I can read it over and over unlike many books on craft, and I always get something new out of it. Which reminds me…I really need to read this again!

Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis because I’m fascinated with mythologies of the world and how they all tie together and influence us even today.

The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition by Joshua Piven because they say you should hate your characters and put them in awful situations, and this book gives you some great ideas on how to do exactly that (and get them out of the situations, too)!

Thanks, PJ, for taking the time to answer all these questions!! And good luck with this book, as well as the rest in the trilogy. :)
Thank you so much, Tabitha!

If you'd like to read more about PJ and her first novel, here's a list of interviews and reviews:
August 2008 Book Review Maniac
August 2008 Trainspotting Reads
February 2008 The Edge of The Forest
Jen Robinson, Jen Robinson's Book Page
Five Stars - Recipient of the Gold Star Award for Excellence: Teens Read Too
Daphne Grab at The Longstockings
Balanced Steps
Bookworms' Reviews (Bookworm Number 1)
Bookworms' Reviews (Bookworm Number 2)
Book Review Maniac
Eleanor at Present Lenore
Book Review Maniac Junior
Mrs. V's Reviews
Presenting Lenore
The Book Vault
The Page Flipper
The Book Muncher
In The Booley House
Trainspotting Reads

Last, but not least, the book trailer!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Spiderweb Cake

Yesterday was a Fall Festival at my oldest son's school. It was huge! They brought in a petting zoo, had pony and camel rides, games to play, even a haunted house. Let me tell you, most haunted houses are on the ridiculous side...not this one! We ended up not going because my youngest took one look inside, and said "I don't want to go in there." Then he turned and walked away. :)

I donated some sweet stuff to their bake sale. I made two dozen cookies, and four layer cakes. Three had this design:

I took a better picture, but it's on a camera that doesn't have a way to download onto my computer. So I snapped this picture right before the cake sold. :) I did three of these on friday, then ran out of decorating supplies so I slathered the last one in plain chocolate frosting. It was fun, just tiring. All four cakes apparently sold quickly, so that's good. :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Plot Summary: When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. He’s also a washed up child prodigy with ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a passion for anagrams, and an overweight, Judge Judy-obsessed best-friend-Hassan. Colin’s on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which will predict the future of all relationships, transform him from a fading prodigy into a true genius, and finally win him the girl.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

This book is living proof that YA novels can be fun and light, yet still be gripping. Or, it could simply be that John Green is a genius. Yes, that’s probably it. He took this story and created the best characters for it. Look at the main character, for example: Colin Singleton. Singleton. The one who doesn’t go for a girl unless her name is Katherine. Not Kathy, not Katie, not even Catherine. Katherine. How “single”-minded can you get?

So, to get his mind off the latest Katherine, Colin’s best friend, Hassan, takes him on a road trip. Colin spends all his time trying to create a theorem to predict the future of all relationships, using his past Katherines as data. Again with the single-mindedness.

On this trip, Colin meets a girl that stirs feelings of interest, which he dismisses because her name isn’t Katherine. It’s Lindsey. From this point, we know exactly what’s going to happen. Colin is going to get over his obsession with Katherines, hook up with Lindsey, and move on with a broader view of life. And yet, I was still hooked.


Quite simple, really. I loved these characters. They made me laugh. They seemed so real that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see one of them sitting next to me on the sofa. They did stupid things that anyone in their shoes could have done, then they learned not to do it again and moved on. I didn’t care that I knew what was going to happen. What I cared about was seeing how they got there, because these characters were interesting, funny, and unpredictable. And funny. Did I mention funny? This is an excellent example of fully developed characters that carry an entire story from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sequels of Sequels

There are many book sequels and series on the shelves that are doing well: Twilight, Inheritance, Gossip Girls, The Vampire Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Keys to the Kingdom, Tom Swift, Gemma Doyle, Uglies, etc. A series is a set of stories that has no foreseeable end. Each story is pretty stand-alone, has the same core set of characters, and, when the book ends, the story ends too. If you read them out of order, they still make sense for the most part.

Sequels are different. Each book relies heavily on the previous installments, and it’s difficult to understand what’s going on if you pick up a book at random. Because of this, writing sequels, especially trilogies and such, is really tough. Essentially, you’re writing one HUGE story, and breaking it up into manageable chunks.

This also means that you have multiple storylines to manage: the bigger, overall storyline, plus each of the smaller storylines that create the larger one. If you want to write an effective trilogy, or quartet, or even a septet like Harry Potter, you need to know your overall storyline. And, you need to keep it consistent from beginning to end. If there are inconsistencies, readers will notice.

For example: THE SWEET FAR THING is the final book of the Gemma Doyle trilogy. A few things were revealed in this book that did not mesh with the previous two: Pippa's transformation, and Felicity's secret. Of the two, Felicity’s secret was the biggest shock. SPOILER WARNING: Not once was there anything to hint at the relationship between Pippa and Felicity in the first two books. In fact, they painted the opposite picture. Felicity sneaks around and constantly steals kisses from one of the gypsies. Plus, Pippa creates a gorgeous, fawning young prince when she’s in the realms, and she never grows tired of him. In fact, she chooses to stay with him rather than go back to the real world to be with Felicity. These kinds of things start the reader down a certain path with a certain frame of mind. So, when their relationship was revealed, it was jarring because it didn’t mesh with everything else we’d read.

A similar thing happens with Pippa’s transformation. In the first two books, it’s made clear that any human soul who stays in the realms too long will become corrupted. Then, suddenly, we’re told that they can choose not become corrupted. That Pippa has a choice. Here, the author has broken a rule that she established early on. SPOILER WARNING: In the end, Pippa becomes corrupted. But it’s because she chooses not to try, not because it was inevitable. If this is where the author wanted to take the story, then the souls-will-be-corrupted rule shouldn’t have been so absolute. At the very least, an uncorrupted soul could have been living in the realms, as proof that if Pippa had only tried, she could’ve remained herself.

While you’re keeping track of all these larger story ideas, you still have to keep track of the smaller ones, too. Each of these needs to have its own story arc, while keeping consistent with the larger story. A good example of this is the UGLIES trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. Each book, UGLIES, PRETTIES, and SPECIALS, is a story of its own. UGLIES is all about Tally being ugly. PRETTIES is all about Tally being pretty. SPECIALS is all about Tally being special. Yet it’s clear there’s more to these stories, that there’s a larger picture somewhere, which gets resolved in the final book.

I realize this is a lot of work. But if you let these details slide, you run the risk of alienating your readers. Both with this story, and with future ones. I, for one, don’t want to take that risk.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Third Annual Cybils Awards

The Cybils Award is given to children's books that have been nominated by readers.

So, all you readers, do you have a favorite children's book from this year that you simply must nominate? Then go do it! Nominations are accepted in nine categories: Young Adult Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult, Easy Readers, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Picture Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and Poetry.

You can nominate one book per category, through October 15th. Finalists will be announced on January 1st, then winners will be announced on February 14th. So go nominate!! I sure will.
I looked over the previous winners - some I've read and some I haven't. And now my reading list has gotten much longer...

Monday, October 06, 2008

Are You A Writer?

Since my son started kindergarten, I’ve gone from having six hours at the computer each day, to two. He used to be in an all day preschool, but now he’s in a morning only kindergarten class. I have tried to work while he’s home, but it’s just not working. I can read, though, which is something. But now I’m reading a lot more than I’m able to write.

I’m also tired, because keeping an energetic five year old occupied isn’t exactly easy, and I find myself doing things that don’t require much thought. Such as, arranging my bookshelf and workspace, re-organizing my files, checking the stats on my blog, etc. Blog stats are fascinating, by the way (Resident Alien and Carrie Harris did a post on this not long ago, and now I understand the fascination). I’ve had visitors from the UK, Australia, India, even Cyprus. And I don’t even know where Cyprus is. I also get to see what people are searching for when they land on my site. So far, the most common thing I’ve seen is “How do you know if you’re a writer?”

That’s a good question.

Being a writer is a profession, like being a doctor, contractor, or pharmacist. You perform a service that benefits others (entertainment and enjoyment). But how do you know you are one? Because you’re published, i.e. get paid? Because you’ve scribbled a few words on a page? Somewhere in between?

Personally, I think it’s none of those things. To me, calling yourself a writer is a state of mind. Why do you write? To share a story with others? You have nothing better to do? To become rich and famous? If you answer "yes" to that last one, you might want to find a more lucrative field. :) To all others, ask yourself this question:

What would happen if you stopped writing?

My answer is simple: I'd go crazy. Then, I'd slowly drive everyone around me crazy. So, it’s really in everyone’s best interest for me to keep writing.

Because of this, I’ve decided that writing is what I want to do for a living, and I’m willing to put in the insane amount of work required to get my stuff out there on the shelves. Whatever I need to learn, however much I need to write or research, I’ll do it. I won’t quit, ever. And, even though I’m not published (yet!), I recently started calling myself a writer.

I’ve spend the last seven years or so learning as much as I can about writing, and about the publishing industry. I sought it out, asked questions, did writing exercises, analyzed published works, brushed up on grammar and punctuation, etc.

I see this as the equivalent of going to school to be a computer programmer. You can’t write programs if you don’t know the language, so you put in the work to learn. Once you’ve graduated, you go off to find your first job – at this point, even if you haven’t found a job yet, you still call yourself a programmer. If you didn’t, then what was the point of all those years at school? If you’re going to enter a different profession, you’d have to start all over.

So, I don’t believe that you need to be published in order to call yourself a writer. I just think you need to ask yourself two questions:

Is this what you really want to do?
Are you willing to put in the tremendous (i.e. insane) amount of work it requires?

If your answer is “yes” to both, then grab a sword and dub yourself with the title of Writer! :)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles

Plot Summary: Going to Israel with her estranged Israeli father is the last thing Amy wants to do this summer. She’s got a serious grudge against her dad, a.k.a. “Sperm Donor,” for showing up so rarely in her life. Now he’s dragging her to a war zone to meet a family she’s never known, where she’ll probably be drafted into the army. At the very least, she’ll be stuck in a house with no AC and only one bathroom for seven people all summer—no best friend, no boyfriend, no shopping, no cell phone…

I read this book after seeing the book trailer, which was both hilarious and effective – I would ordinarily pass up a book like this, but the trailer made me stop and pick it up.

Last week, I went through my bookshelves looking for books to donate to my local library for their book sale, when I came across HOW TO RUIN A SUMMER VACATION. I settled down to read it again, enjoyed it just as much as the first time around, then tucked it back on to the shelf.

I’m not a big fan of stories about typical, spoiled teenagers. Especially the ones who plan their summers around shopping, flirting, cell phones, etc. But take one and drop her in Israel for the summer? *rubbing hands together* Now we're talking!

The story starts with Amy’s teenage complaints – how frustrated she is that her father isn’t a bigger part of her life, yet she does nothing to help him become more. Things like that. Then her father calls and says her grandmother, who lives in Israel and who Amy has never met, is sick. He is going to spend the summer visiting her, and wants to bring Amy along.

You can probably guess what happens next. Instead of seeing this trip as a chance to get what she wants – a chance for her father to become more than what he’s been all these years – she complains. Of course she does! That’s what self-absorbed teenagers do! "I want this, but not like that." *huff* "I want that, but not that way." Ms. Elkeles really has a handle on these kinds of teenage girls! :)

So, Amy is scooped up, deposited on a plane, and lands in a moshav in Israel. Here, she meets family members for the first time, and these people are nothing like her. They don’t live in air conditioned luxury, they care for sheep, there are smelly dogs everywhere, and they are strong from the manual labor they do to survive. There are two in particular, Avi and Osnat, who make her visit difficult. It’s through these difficulties that Amy begins to do some soul searching, and finds a part of herself that she didn’t know existed. All it took was to drop her in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of strangers, and voila! A deeper, stronger Amy emerges with a whole new family to support her.

A really good, fun, and hilarious read. Two thumbs up.