Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cress by Marissa Meyer

In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.
Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.
When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

This is a loose retelling of Rapunzel. Cress was placed in a satellite when she was a child, and, since then, she’d never had a haircut. So, her hair is very long, and it’s *everywhere*. It’s how I imagined Rapunzel’s hair would be in the fairy tale, except she always kept it tamed (in good fairy tale form).

The main difference in Cress is that she’s not locked in a tower and blind to the rest of the world. Cress is in a satellite, and has hacked into every system she can find. She knows exactly what’s going on in the world and she wants to be a part of it. She doesn’t wait to be rescued—instead, she rescues herself. She just needs a ride in order to do it. I liked that.

The relationship that develops between Cress and Thorne is predictable, but enjoyable. And I really like that Thorne didn’t ‘change’ at the end. So many YA stories have the hot-jerk-boyfriend suddenly change and become not-a-jerk by the end so that the protagonist can live happily ever after with him. That drives me crazy. Thorne isn’t the hot-jerk-boyfriend type, but he has a reputation of being something of a player. Cress has a crush on him, but that crush doesn’t develop into insta-love. It takes a more realistic path. I really liked that.

The action is just as fun and engaging as previous books. Cinder’s doubts in herself are realistic and fitting, and her choices fit her age and experience. I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which appears to be a retelling of Snow White.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Invisible Writing

Last week, I talked about how great books make a lasting impression on the reader, as well as how seamless and invisible writing contributes to that. This week, I want to talk about what makes writing invisible and seamless.

The definition of invisible is, quite simply, that it’s not visible. It’s not noticeable. It’s not front and center. I think of invisible writing as similar to stagehands during a play. You see them occasionally, when there’s a necessary set change that’s not possible to do behind the curtain, but they’re never seen for long, and the audience hardly gives them a second thought. The focus is always on the actors and the story. The stagehands are absolutely necessary, though, because, without them, the play would fall apart. The audience just can’t see everything they do. Not unless they look for them specifically.

When I write, I strive for ‘stagehand’ writing. Basically, I want my words to bring out the story and only the story. I don’t want my readers to notice the words I used unless they are specifically looking at them. With that in mind, these are the guidelines I follow when I write.

Avoid Repetition
If you convey an idea or concept in one paragraph, don’t do it again three paragraphs later. This makes the reader feel like you are hammering it into their heads, and it generally puts him off. Instead, keep the paragraph that most effectively conveys what you want to say and ditch the other.

You also need to be careful with words that sound similar. If you use the word ‘though’ in one sentence, don’t use ‘although’ in the same paragraph. Or even in the next paragraph. Instead, grab your handy thesaurus and find another word that sounds completely different but conveys the same meaning.

Streamline Your Sentences
Don’t use two words where one will do, especially when one of the words paints a vivid image on its own. One word that does the job of two has more impact on the reader, and gives the impression of clean and sharp prose. For example, we know a skyscraper is tall so there is no need to include that descriptor. Instead, we need to know about its uniqueness, and, most importantly, it’s impact on the story and characters.

Filler words can also clutter up a sentence, and most are not needed. Some examples are very, just, a lot, actually, pretty (as in pretty good or pretty close), really, rather, etc. Unnecessary prepositions fall into the same category. For example, ‘At around’ is a common phrase, but both words are not necessary. They also conflict with each other: ‘at’ implies precision, and ‘around’ implies estimation. Use one or the other, but not both. In general, watch how you use prepositions. Most times, there are better ways to convey your ideas.

Avoid Adverbs and Adjectives
Adverbs are the easiest way to get your ideas across to the reader. They are also weaker and, most often, unnecessary. Instead, use a stronger verb that conveys the same meaning and gives the reader a clear image of what’s happening. For example:
“What are you doing?” she said shrilly.
“What are you doing?” she screeched.
The first example uses two words where one will do, which is illustrated in the second example. It can be hard to find the right verb, but, when you do, your words will come alive. The same principle applies to adjectives.

Once you’ve gone through your story over and over and are finally in your last stage of revision, look at each word and assess whether it is necessary, whether it is doing the job it’s supposed to do. All of these things will give you a vivid story.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Full Contact Writing

I have carpal tunnel. It’s a side effect of typing at a computer for most of the day, every day, for the past twenty years. Many people have it and we’ve figured out how to live with it. I also study karate, and that requires impact on my wrists at times. One of my teachers can always tell when I’ve been doing a lot of writing because my wrists are more tender than usual. The last time he noticed, he said to me “Full contact writing again?” I laughed because karate-related injuries can happen in our dojo and we all know how to deal with them, but writing isn’t a contact sport. It’s sitting in a chair all day, and the only things moving are your fingers.

After I went home, though, I thought about what he said.

Full Contact Writing.

Actually, that *is* what I do, or, at least, what I strive to do. I don’t mean this in a physical sense, like chucking a book at someone’s head. I mean mentally, intellectually, and emotionally. When I read a great story, it makes an impact on me. A hard hit in karate can leave bruises, which usually last about a week. In a good book, the characters and situations leave an impression on my mind, sometimes for days after I’ve finished it.

A book that can do this has effectively used all the working parts: relatable and interesting characters, unpredictable plot, vivid and believable world-building, increasing tension, satisfying conclusion, etc. But the thing that really ties all these together is the writing. Good, solid, strong writing.

What makes writing good?

I’ve taken quite a few writing classes over the years. Inevitably, someone picks out a flowery sentence and reads it aloud as an example of amazingly good writing because it sounds so beautiful. But, does that make it good writing? In my opinion, no.

Beautiful sentences and turns of phrases work great in poetry or books in verse. But in a regular story? Nope. For me, it makes it sound like the author is trying too hard to impress the reader, and she comes across as pretentious. These sentences also do a disservice to the story because the reader is no longer absorbed in the story, she’s focusing on the words. The best writing is invisible, seamless, and never distracts from the characters or the story. It’s the stitching that binds the various pieces of the story together, and stitching is best when it’s not the focus of the whole work. Occasionally, some stitching is visible and adds to the overall beauty of the whole, but it’s never the focus, and it’s never what you notice first.

So, how do you write invisible and seamless sentences? That’s the topic for next week.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison--even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

The first book in this series, Cinder, is a futuristic sci-fi retelling of Cinderella. Scarlet is about Little Red Riding Hood, but with a modern twist.

In the original fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood is meek, scared, and incapable. Scarlet is none of these things. She learns that her grandmother is in danger, so she rushes off to rescue her. She has such determination that she overcomes any obstacles by sheer will. She has no problems taking care of herself, and isn’t easily scared off. I loved reading about her.

We meet two new characters in this book: Wolf and Thorne. Thorne is hilarious. He’s got the perfect blend of swagger and cluelessness. Wolf is, of course, something of the Big Bad Wolf character, but in an interesting way. He’s not your typical alpha male character because of his damaged past. I liked him, and I liked the romance that blossoms between him and Scarlet.

Cinder is in this book, too, and the story starts out with two separate story lines: one for Cinder and one for Scarlet. They seem unrelated at first, and then Meyer connects them in a pretty cool way. The plot has plenty of tension and the pacing makes it impossible to put this book down.

If you like fairy tales and sci-fi, you’ll probably like this series. Definitely recommended.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Crafting Powerful Sentences

My oldest son is in fourth grade, and he recently came home with an interesting homework assignment. He had to pick out what his teacher called ‘juicy sentences’ from the book he was currently reading. These juicy sentences (I love that term, btw) are the ones that evoke the most emotion, imagery, tension, etc.

It’s difficult to craft sentences like that. It’s all about choosing the right words for your story, which is easier said than done. Part of it is feeling out the story and using the words that pop into your mind, and you can’t really explain why you choose them. You just do. This skill takes a long time to learn how to do effectively, and can’t really be taught. But there are a few guidelines that can help steer you in the right direction.

1) Avoid repeated words.
When we repeat words or phrases in our stories, it lessens the impact each time that word is used. This includes repeated imagery. If you’ve just referenced a color as a feeling, or a metaphoric smell, or specific kind of texture, then avoid using that same reference again. If possible, don’t use it anywhere else in the story. This keeps it original, and the single use makes it powerful.

2) Avoid common, everyday words.
Words like just, then, anyway, so, though, etc. dilute the sentence because they’re filler words. They don’t add anything to the underlying meaning of the sentence, and can (most often) be deleted. Don’t worry about these words that crop up in your first draft. After you have the big picture working, then you can go through and remove them.

3) Avoid overly used phrases.
The most powerful sentence is one that conveys a familiar meaning/image/feeling/etc while using unfamiliar construct of words. Phrases that have been around for quite some time are more like conversation filler. They don’t really have any meaning except to let the person verbally meander. A powerful sentence doesn’t meander; it gets right the point and hits you hard with its intent. Instead of taking the easy way out and using a phrase that you’re familiar with, find a new way to say it.

Some examples to avoid: of course, I was like, I couldn’t help but wonder, I noticed, in my mind’s eye, only to be met with, sent shock waves of, like a bat out of hell, glimmer of hope, throw in the towel, etc.

To create your powerful sentences, constantly ask yourself if there’s a stronger way of telling your story. Embrace the concept of ‘less is more.’ Look at each word and ask yourself what its purpose is. If you can’t answer, then you either need to delete it or find a different word. Make your sentences as juicy as possible.

This is a lot of work. A lot. But it’s also what separates the good writers from the great ones.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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.

This is a fantastic and imaginative retelling of Cinderella. I'm not always fond of retellings because they are sometimes rote and predictable. It's their nature because the basic plot is well-known. But a good author can make the reader invest in the story even if we know where it's heading. I was invested in Cinder.

Cinder is a cyborg because of a horrible accident that almost killed her when she was a child. In her society, cyborgs are considered second-class citizens. Actually, more property than citizens, which brings about some serious discrimination issues. Meyer handles them well. Cinder does as much as she can to hide the mechanical aspects of her body, but she can only do so much: one of her legs is mechanical and her foot is much too small (it's left over from when she was a child), making it near impossible to disguise. The change in attitudes from people she encounters is spot on and heartbreaking.

This theme is further illustrated in Iko, the android that lives with Cinder's stepfamily. Iko has a human personality, but she's not human. She *is* property, and her wishes, dreams, and feelings are never considered by the stepmother. It doesn't even occur to her. In fact, it will never occur to her because she sees Iko as far beneath her. Not unlike slavery.

Cinder herself is a fantastic character. She's a brilliant mechanic, feisty and strong, and smart about how she stands up for herself. She's also practical about her interactions with Prince Kai, but still loyal and selfless. She made the story interesting. Well, that and the pages and pages of action-packed tension. :) The romance develops slowly and on the more realistic side, and I liked how the two came together.

If you haven't read this, you should. It's great fun, and very entertaining. Definitely recommended.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In the Past or Present?

Present tense. It's in many YA books today. Some people have very strong feelings against it, some don’t. Me? I love it. BUT. Yes, there’s a but. :) I only love it if it has been done well, and if it’s necessary to the story. Otherwise, I can't stand it, and this is why.

When we writers sit down to write a first draft, we are discovering the story. Even if it’s been planned out with outlines and whatnot, there is still plenty of discovery happening through the characters, dialog, setting, etc. That adds an element of immediacy, of being in the moment. But the problem is that it’s not coming from the characters; it’s coming from us.

In that first draft, we writers are in a state of complete discovery. We may know some basic facts about the story and the characters, but really we are living from moment to moment, recording the story as we go. In subsequent drafts, though, we are no longer in that moment. We are reflecting back on it, analyzing, perfecting, adding in the details we may have missed the first time around, and trying to show that moment to the reader in the best way possible.

The same is true for our characters. To have a completely effective story told in present tense, the characters must be in the moment, not the author. That means that there should be no reflection or analyzing of what is currently happening. They need to figure things out as they go.

Some good examples of present tense are The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and The Spectacular Now. In Jenna Fox and Teenage Amnesiac, the main characters have no memory of who they are. They’ve been told some basic facts about themselves, but they are in full discovery mode, trying figure things out. A perfect situation for present tense.

In Jenna Fox, Jenna stays in this self-discovery mode for the entire story because it’s not possible for her to reflect on who she was before her accident. It’s a very powerful story. The reader gets completely sucked into all of her moments and can’t wait for her to discover more, because that means we will discover more. This book is one of the most effective uses of present tense I’ve ever seen.

In Teenage Amnesiac, Naomi is suffering from amnesia due to a nasty bump on the head. So, in the beginning, we are discovering right along with her. It’s just as effective as Jenna Fox, and just as compelling...until Naomi regains her memory, and suddenly knows who she was before she bumped her head. At this moment, Naomi begins to reflect, comparing her old self to her new self. It’s also the moment that the present tense feels awkward. The reader is stuck in discovery mode, i.e. present tense, but Naomi is no longer discovering. She’s reflecting and analyzing.

The Spectacular Now is a different sort of book. Sutter is a party boy alcoholic. He completely lives in the moment, looking for the next fun thing. When that’s over, he’s off looking for the next one, and the next, and so on. His whole life is built upon not reflecting, because that would mean facing the possibility that he has a problem with his drinking. Hence, the title, The Spectacular Now. As Sutter shares his story with us, he presents it as-is, no frills, no I-guess-I-did-that-because rationalizations or reflections. He is completely in the moment, and this book is also one of the most effective uses of present tense I’ve ever seen.

So if you’re writing a story in present tense and you’re not sure if it’s effective, then take a look at both you and your character. Which one is in discovery mode? Which one is completely in the moment? If it’s you, then you might want to rethink using present tense. If it’s your character, then you’re probably on the right track.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

In The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

The basic premise behind this series is compelling, and the writing is quick and vivid. It's easy to pick these books up and not set them down until the end because they are full of non-stop action. Cia is interesting, too. It's refreshing to read about a super smart girl, especially in math and science, who is also brave and can look at things from a 'big picture' perspective.

With the first book, I had issues believing in the basic world-building. Unfortunately, I had the same issue with this book. There are still too many holes in why someone would want a society to function this way. The kind of people who would graduate from a program like this would be more of a threat to the leaders, simply because it rewards selfishness and greed, *and* the only people accepted are super smart. So they will come up with creative ways to get themselves more power, which threatens those currently in power. Therefore, I still couldn't buy into the world.

That said, I thought this book was better than the first...until I got to the end. Cia is too smart to do something so stupid. Because of that, I figured out the plot twist well before it was revealed, which really bummed me out. I was hoping to be surprised. Endings are important to me, so this one impacted my enjoyment of the rest of the story quite a bit.

I'll probably read the last book just to see how it ends, but I'll wait until I can check it out from the library.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Revision Read Aloud

A couple weeks ago, I posted about how a good verbal narrator can influence the listener’s enjoyment of a story. But today I want to talk about using the act of reading aloud as a revision tool.

When you’re revising your story, especially if you’re on draft ten or so, you know what’s on the page so well that you can miss little details here and there. In a MG I recently revised, I altered the story such that the main character no longer had a mom. Instead, he had a close aunt. I went through the whole manuscript to remove all references to the mom, but missed a few. I never did catch them—my agent did. :) And, even as I was staring at the sentence with the mom reference, it still didn’t register completely. I’d read that sentence so many times that my brain had stopped noticing it. Even when it was pointed out to me directly. :)

So, after I’d gone through another round of revisions, I decided to read my story aloud, just to make sure everything sounded like I wanted it to sound. Aaaand, I caught another revision remnant (not the mom, something else) that was left over from an earlier draft.

When you read something aloud, your brain seems to go to a different place than when you’re reading silently. My brain does funny things when I read aloud. As a kid, whenever I was called on in class to read, I couldn’t ever read and comprehend at the same time because I was too nervous. No one wants to be that kid that mispronounces a word and says something ridiculous in front of everyone. :) So the only thing I focused on was pronouncing each word. But when I read my novel aloud without an audience, I found myself listening to the sound of my voice. The awkward sentences were suddenly obvious. A missing word, or an additional word, presented itself. Repeated words popped up, arms waving and screaming ‘here I am again!’ It’s really astounding.

All this said, there are times when it’s not useful to read aloud. For example, when you have a first draft. :) In this part of the revision process, you’re still looking at big picture issues. Does the plot build tension? Is it resolved with a satisfying conclusion? Are my characters likeable and believable? Do they grow? Does the story flow well, or does it have moments when interesting things don’t happen?

When you’re investigating these kinds of questions, reading your work aloud isn’t going to help you much. But if you’ve got a solid draft and you’re ready to polish the language, then reading aloud is incredibly useful.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Dualed by Elsie Chapman

In the city of Kersh, everyone must eliminate their genetic Alternate twin, raised by another family, before their twentieth birthday. West Grayer, 15, has trained as a fighter, and has one month to hunt and kill her Alt. A tragic misstep shakes her confidence. Guilty, grieving, she feels unworthy, runs from her Alt and from love - both can destroy her.

I found the premise of this book intriguing, though was a little worried about where the story was going to go. I ended up listening to the audiobook (something I do while I’m folding laundry or washing dishes—it makes the chore so much better), but I really didn't like the narrator. By the end, her voice was grating on my nerves and that got in the way of the story quite a bit. Multiple times, I wished I was reading it instead of listening.

Anyway, attempting to leave the narrator out of it, the story was okay. My initial worries turned out to be valid… West ends up becoming a killer for hire because it’s the only way she’ll get real training for dealing with her own Alt. I had some issues with that. It’s one thing to be forced into an impossible situation where it’s kill or be killed, and another entirely to kill for money. You've got to have a certain kind of cold heart in order to kill for hire, and that interfered with my enjoyment of the rest if the story.

Then, West becomes ‘active,’ and has to kill her Alt. But she doesn’t. She runs from every opportunity, and continues with the killing for hire. I wasn’t okay with this, either. I'm guessing that the author was trying to allude to scary aspects of oneself, how it's easier to face other people's faults than your own, but the killing overshadowed all of that. I give props to the author for tackling such a difficult and strong theme, and I wish it had come across stronger.

So, overall, it was okay. Definitely read the book instead of listening to the audiobook.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing a Story vs. Telling a Story

I think everyone has had the experience where you’re with a friend, and you turn to them and say ‘so, I was on my way to (somewhere), and...’ or ‘you’re not going to believe what happened to…’ or something along those lines. And then we tell them what happened, which is basically an abbreviated story. In this scenario, the story works really well, especially for those who tell it with gusto. But if you were to transcribe those words onto paper, stick a title on it, and call it a story, it would read as flat and boring. Why? Because there are several key elements missing.

When you recount an event verbally in this way, it’s very linear: first this happened, then this, then that, and finally this. End of story. Basically, you’re giving your friend an outline of what happened. You’re not trying to immerse her in the events. If you did try to immerse her in the events, she would get bored and make that ‘get on with it already’ face. She doesn’t want to know what the room smelled like, or how soft someone’s skin is. Not unless that *is* the story. I.E., “Every time I walk by that spa on the corner, it smells like soap.” Or, “You have got to try this new body lotion. It makes your skin so soft!”

But when we write a story, our goal is immersion. We need to include all five senses in our prose, because we want the reader to feel as if he is right there in the world we’ve created.

Many new writers don’t make this distinction. I think it’s natural to sit down and write a story the way you’d tell it to someone. After all, it’s probably the only thing most writers have known up to this point. It’s all I knew when I first started writing, and that’s what my very first story looked like. :)

That’s not to say that verbally telling a story has no merit. It does. People read to their kids all the time, and there’s a huge market for audiobooks. And, most of the time, the people reading aloud can really get into it. Sound effects, altered voices, changes in pitch and speed, depending on the level of tension in the scene, etc. A great reader can turn a mediocre story into a fascinating one simply by telling it well. I’ve experienced this with audiobooks. I’ve also experienced the opposite, where the reader was not very good and made a great story sound annoying or boring.

So, basically, you can’t rely on a good reader. :) Your story has to stand on its own and generate images, feelings, sounds, and smells without the help of a good reader. That means you need to go far beyond the linear nature of this-happened-then-this-happened-etc. and the best way to start is to look at a moment in your own day. What do you notice? How do things feel or taste? What puts you in that moment and makes you feel like you’re there? Those are the details that need to go into your story.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Little Android by Marissa Meyer

When android Mech6.0, saves the life of a handsome hardware engineer, her body is destroyed and her mechanics discover a glitch in her programing. Androids aren’t not meant to develop unpractical reasoning or near-emotional responses…let alone fall in love.

This is a short story, which I don’t normally review, but I really wanted to review this one because I loved it! This is one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve ever read.

The Little Android is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, set in the world of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and Scarlet. Cinder even has a cameo halfway through. :) Anyway, this retelling has been done so remarkably well that if you didn’t know the story of The Little Mermaid before reading it, it wouldn’t matter. This reads like its own coming of age story.

Mech 6 is a likable and sympathetic character, and her journey feels authentic and relatable. If you know how The Little Mermaid ends, then you already know how her story is going to end. Still, I couldn’t help but cheer her on. And then, when the end came, it felt so natural and touching and my heart went out to her.

The story doesn’t take long to read, so if you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes or so, I highly recommend it. You can read it for free here:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cybils Winners!

I apologize for not posting more regularly lately. Life has thrown me more than a few curve balls these past few months, and I'm just now getting back on my feet.

Anyway, the winners of the Cybils Awards were announced some time ago, but I still wanted to celebrate them. You can go here to see the full list.

I want to take a moment and gush about the winner of the YA Fiction category... It's Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.

Of the 90ish books I read as a panelist for this category, Yaqui was one of my absolute favorites, and I'm so glad to see that it won. It's the best book on bullying I've ever read, and has a realistic ending. If you haven't read it, you should. Like, now. :) In the mean time, though, I'm going to check out the winners of the other categories.

Happy reading, everyone!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Shifts in Perception

Yesterday morning, Chicago woke up to yet another few inches of snow. So far this winter, we’ve had a total of 75 (ish) inches of snow—we normally get an average of 36 or so. It’s been too cold for the snow to melt, so it just keeps accumulating, making it difficult to get around. The past few days, though, have been warm enough to melt at least some of it, leaving crusty piles of filthy snow everywhere. Everyone here is so done with winter.

And yet, this morning, when I looked out the window to a fresh blanket of snow, I marveled at the beauty. This is, by far, the prettiest snow we’ve had all winter. The elements all lined up to allow the snow to accumulate on tree branches, the sides of fences, windows, and pretty much any surface cold enough to hold it (which is everything). It was breathtaking. So, after dropping my kids off at school, I went outside to take pictures…and experienced something quite interesting.

Most people were heading off to work and some were walking their dogs, but everyone was clearly disgusted with this new snowfall. And, when they saw me taking pictures, they either looked at me like I was crazy or dismissed me as a tourist. Because what Chicagoan in their right mind would be happy about more snow? Right?

Well, they would be right, and also wrong. I’m a native Midwesterner. I grew up through some wild snow storms, ice storms, power losses, buried roads and cars, etc. Even though we’ve had near record-breaking amounts of snow this winter, this is nothing new to me. I’m as tired of winter as everyone else, and can’t wait to put my snow boots away already! But, this morning was so gorgeous and peaceful that I just had to set those discontented feelings aside and enjoy the moment. I grabbed my camera and went out to celebrate the beauty.

I am hoping that this is the last snow that will stick, and that the temperatures will begin to rise so I can hang up my big winter coat. But that doesn’t mean I want to ignore beautiful moments like this morning. I get why some people might not be able do this, but it still makes me a little sad.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? Nothing. Not really. :) The only parallel is that our characters are just like the people who woke up to yet more snow this morning. Some hated it, some found it picturesque. Characters in our books react in the same ways, but we get more insight into why they react the way they do—we get to see the shift in perception over the course of the story. The character might have started out loving winter, but then grew to hate even the mention of snow. Or, the character might have started out hating winter, but then grew to appreciate the beauty in it. A character’s shift in perception is a part of his journey, and the reader needs to not only see it, but also understand it.

Anyway, in case anyone is interested, here are some of the pictures I took. Enjoy!



Thursday, January 02, 2014

Cybils Finalists

I've read almost 90 books since October 1st, and then my fellow panelists and I went through our favorites and agreed on the list of finalists. They were announced yesterday, so go check them out!!

The next round of deliberations have begun, and the winners will be announced next month. In the mean time, happy reading!!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year!!!

Hope everyone had safe and happy celebrations last night. Here's to a great year ahead!!