Saturday, December 31, 2011

Faves of 2011: The Year in Reading

It's been an awesome year for reading, people. Thus, I have a lot of ground to cover.

I tried to edit myself, I swear! I just have so much book love to spread!

Favorite Newly Discovered Authors of 2011

Requirements for this category:
  1. I have to discover them this year.
  2. Then, I must become so obsessed with them that I read ALL their books.
  3. They must have more than one book out, because with each book, my love for that author exponentially increases.
(Last year, the only author in this category was Melina Marchetta, but she is SO awesome. My love for would put her on the list three times. I actually turned around and reread ALL her books again earlier this year, because I just missed her so much.)

Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna & the French Kiss and Lola & the Boy Next Door

You knew this lady would be on here, didn't you? I've already talked about her a lot this year, especially in this post and this post.

But what you might not know is that her blog is pretty awesome. And she likes to recommend books on it, which led me straight to the other two authors...

Sarah Addison Allen, author of Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and The Peach Keeper

I think of her as the Southern Alice Hoffman. Tales of magic, love, heartbreak, and healing set in small town, probably North Carolinian Appalachia. I devoured all four of her books in the space of two weeks, and I've been giving them as gifts ever since.

Laini Taylor, author of The Drowned, Blackbringer, Silksinger, Lips Touch, and the recently released, chart-topping Daughter of Smoke & Bone

She could always write a gorgeous, lush, gut-wrenching story, full of the most marvelous stuff, objects you would risk a curse to go purchase at a Fairie Market. But Lips Touch and Daughter of Smoke & Bone are where she really starts to shine, hooking all the threads together in a tapestry of WOW. Note: Taylor uses the whole spectrum of tones here, people - gruesome and glorious, so she's definitely the dark/gritty to Perkins's light/fluffy.

(Fun fact: Perkins and Taylor are critique partners and good friends! I like it when my favorite people like each other.)

Favorite Books of 2011

For Early Readers

The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless, by Allen Woodrow

Funny, evil, and my very favorite super-villain-in-training of all time. Please read for zucchini-flavored gum, scary squirrels, and a loyal best friend. Probably best for fans of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books.

Cinderella Smith
, by Stephanie Barden.

Sweet, humorous, and heartwarming. This book is about an absent-minded, lovable little girl, who gets nicknamed "Cinderella," because she has a terrible habit of losing her shoe. Probably best for fans of Sara Pennypacker's Clementine books.

(Disclaimer: I've already written about most of the following, so click on the title or cover of the book if you want to read more about it.)

Middle Grade

Winner of the Most Exciting New Series Award!

Winner of Best Tearjerker Contemporary Award!

by Lucy Christopher

Winner of Best Tearjerker Fantasy Award!

by Anne Ursu

Honorable Mention: Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver
(They were neck and neck, but Breadcrumbs is just slightly more my cup of tea.)

Winner of the Best Humor with Heart Award!

The Origami Yoda Books,
by Tom Angleberger

(The second might even be more wonderful than the first.)

Winner of the Full of Sheer Awesome Award!
(a.k.a. the "there's nothing else like it" award.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland
in A Ship of Her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente

Honorable Mention: Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
(There is something like it, though. It's called The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)

Young Adult

Winner of the Most Exciting New Series Award!

by Veronica Roth

Winner of the Tearjerker Contemporary Award!

The Sky Is Everywhere,
by Jandy Nelson

Honorable Mention: If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
(The Sky Is Everywhere made me cry slightly more.)

Winner of the Humor with Heart Award!

Hexhall and Demonglass,
by Rachel Hawkins


Winner of the Contemporary Tearjerker Award!

One Day,
by David Nicholls

(One of my best friends made me read this. It made me cry, and then she made me give it back to her. That almost made me cry too.)

Winner of the Best Paranormal Romance Award!

The Shadow Reader,
by Sandy Williams

Winner of the Best Nonfiction Award!
(Those Pulitzer People thought so too. :-P)

Cleopatra, A Life,
by Stacy Schiff

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Five: Stuff-I-Learned-About-My-(Author)-Self-in-2011 Edition

1. I like to make the same jokes over and over.

In fact, if I'm forced to edit out something funny (usually for space reasons), the joke will usually make it back into the manuscript somewhere. Which, I suppose, completely cancels out the point of cutting it in the first place. Hmm.

Even worse: They make me giggle. Yes, my own jokes.

Thank gumdrops for my agent and editor, who catch all the super unfunny ones and line edit them out for me. Clearly, I can't contain myself. ;-)

2. I write long books. For example, the first draft of Ever Afters #2 is 150,000 words long.

(This may also explain why it took me so long to write the darn thing.)

Backstory is my downfall. I want to give every single character a history. My MC's best friends. My major villain, and my minor villains. The grown-up allies my MC meets and befriends. Even the girlfriend of the MC's father. Seriously, everyone. The tough part is distinguishing what I personally need to know to tell a good story and what the reader actually needs to know to enjoy that aforementioned story.


NOTE: The draft I sent to Jo was in the 135K realm, and we're planning to cut it even shorter than this. So, don't worry - it won't be so long when it reaches the world. :-)

3. I can keep a large-ish middle school-aged audience entertained for at least fifteen minutes.

I did two school visits earlier this winter, and I have to say: I was totally terrified. I mean, first off, public speaking isn't my favorite thing in the world. I remember yawning through a ton of presentations when I was that age, and I didn't think I could handle watching kids get restless as I bored them to death.

So, I overprepared: I wrote outlines. I practiced. I brought props.

And readers, when I presented, I...made them laugh! More than once! (Sometimes, they laughed when I wasn't trying to be funny, but hey, I'll take it. :-P)

This was something I didn't know I could do. (I won't lie: I'm wondering if I've just jinxed myself at this moment. O.o) I don't know if every presentation will go that way, but I'm very grateful the first two went so well. Yaaaay for confidence boosters!

4. I don't know how to handle a compliment, especially one about my books.

I mean, it certainly makes me grin and go all warm and fuzzy on the inside. But the brain inside my head goes completely blank. I never ever know what to say. Sometimes, "Thank you" slips out. If I've had an extra lot of caffeine, I might even stammer, "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

But usually, my brain empties itself completely.

This is what you find if you google "an empty brain."

I plan to work on this in 2012. (Not that I expect a whole bunch of compliments in the future. I still chew my nails at the thought of reviews!) And you know what has helped a lot? Phoebe North's great post on the same subject over at YA Highway. Go check it out!

So, if you ever say something nice to me about my books, please know: It's not you. My brain has just short-circuited. :-)

5. I read a lot of books.

You may be shocked by this. I did just blog about how I kept missing deadlines this, after all. But like I mentioned in this post, it's easier for me to keep my brain screwed on straight if I'm reading something else.

The Stats (As of Today)


Only 34% of those books were intended for grown-ups. I obviously love myself some kid's books.

(And only 15 books were nonfiction. We know which genre is not my favorite.)

Unsurprisingly, I read slightly more MG books (51) than YA books (30), and I reread more books this year than last year.

Check back here after tomorrow, and I'll let you know which of those were my favorite reads.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Year of (Missed) Deadlines

Don't look at me like that. I didn't miss all of them.

I just missed the same one. Four times.

Yes, my friends - I'm talking about the Dreaded Second Book.

(FYI: I actually have a lot to say about Book 2, and this one post can only hold so much. I'm planning a whole blog series about it early next year.)

This is what I imagine Joanna's expression looked like every time I emailed her to say, Book 2 isn't ready yet. I'm still writing/revising/slaving over it. (But I'll finish it in time for Courtney to see it next year, I swear!!)

She was actually super patient with me, and I really really appreciate it.

Initial Estimate: mid July (har, har)

Actual Date turned in: December 10

I'm not a slacker, y'all. My pride just wants to make that clear.

Turning Stuff In Late is in my Top 5 Least Favorite Things To Do. It even ranks above going to the dentist. I hate, Hate, HATE feeling like I'm letting somebody down.

So, the second part of this year was rough. My brain wasn't a comfortable place to live in.

But anyway, after I sent the Dreaded Second Book to Jo, I started thinking back over the year, wondering what my deal was and why I couldn't get the stupid book in at a reasonable time, etc. Mainly to make myself feel better, I listed out all the months of the year with everything I was working on during each month. Then I realized something important:

Every single month, I either had a deadline, or I was working toward a deadline in a few weeks.


(Yes, I'm counting the ones I missed.)

In fact, in October, November, and December, I was working toward more than one deadline at a time. In those months, deadlines would literally interrupt other deadlines. Insanity!

And here's the really scary thing: I can't expect things to ease up next year. In fact, it might even get worse. I thought that 2010 was the year of the deadlines, but 2011 really gave last year a run for its money.

So, it's probably not surprising that I dropped the ball somewhere. Until July of this year, I had a perfect record. Right now, it's...well, less than perfect.

Which led me to my next Important Realization:

Deadlines are just part of the writing life. They're not really going to change.
So, instead I need to change how I handle those deadlines.

This is my plan for the future:

Cut out the angst.

You would think that this is obvious, but it's not. Deadlines are terrifying things when you're a newbie writer, and then they're still scary even when you get used to a few things. All the doubts pour in.

Edit letter: Ack, my editor's right! This section sucks! I'll never fix it. *wails*

Copy-edits: What if I'm wrong about the correct usage of "each other"? The copyeditor knows so much more than me. *wails*

First pass: This is the last time I'll really be able to change anything. What if I miss something important? What if I screw it up and I can't fix it later? *wails*

Finally: *sob* Another deadline? Right now? Seriously? *wails*

Okay, so there wasn't really any wailing. I almost burst into tears a few times, sure, but mostly, I calmed myself down by taking long walks, venting in my journal, and begging my mom for hugs.

Do you see the pattern here?

The deadlines themselves aren't bad, but the angst over them is extremely problematic. And time-consuming.

I can save so much time if I just stop wigging out over the things and just do the things! Or at least minimize the wigging. Because really, everything pretty much worked out okay.

Moral of the story: Angst = time too precious to waste.

Be more honest with myself, my agent, and my editor about how do-able deadlines are.

This one is tricky. It's hard to schedule stuff accurately when you don't know when an editorial letter will arrive in your inbox or your copyedits will land on your doorstep. (Note: it's hard for agents and editors too!)

Confession: the July deadline I missed?

picked it.

I think I picked it back in January or February. I'd started writing Ever Afters 2, but I hadn't even started revising Book 1 for Simon & Schuster. I had no idea how long it was going to take.

But time management is still key, and (I hope) I'll get better with experience.

Let go, and enjoy it.

I am living my dream. That's a fact.

Living your dream can be stressful. That's also a fact.

But it shouldn't be that way. The great and wise Joanna wrote a post on the NC Lit blog (read it here), which reminded me of this.

And honestly, it's not all stressful. In fact, I usually got the most stressed out right before I started working for the day and right before I fell asleep at night. You know, when the deadline looms larger in my mind than the actual, in-the-trenches writing or revising.

Because you see, I like the work.

Okay, I love it. I love the way I can discover new things about my characters and my world in a first draft. I love ripping a messy scene apart and stitching it back together in revisions. In my deepest, darkest heart, I love copyedits too - it means someone was paid to sit there and take my little manuscript seriously enough to point out all its tiniest faults.

It's only when I think about the consequences of missing my deadline that the STRESS MONSTER rears its ugly head and screams, Doooooooom.

Looks strangely similar to a dust mite, don't you think?

So, I need to let go of the consequences - to deal with them as they happen, and not before.

You only get so much time, people. You better enjoy the life you got, especially when you're living your dream. :-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Life Whiplash and Book Reports

How is it that I haven't blogged for a month?

That seems impossible, but now that I think back, the past month has been filled to the brim: First pass pages for Of Giants and Ice took over my Thanksgiving (in the best possible way). A couple school visits and other events popped up next on my calendar, and revision for Ever Afters #2 stole all the time in between. (But Book 2 is with Jo. Yesssssssssss.) Then, I went ahead and started a move across the country on December 10 - driving from Charlotte, North Carolina to San Antonio, Texas (to visit grandparents) and back up to Sante Fe, New Mexico in less than a week.

Now, I'm in Big Sky, Montana for the holidays. Jo's notes on Book 2 will come in this week, but currently, free time spreads out for a few hours - enough time to blog. Of course, so much has happened that I'm having a hard time narrowing down what I would like to write about.

(Disclaimer: I still have whiplash from the crazy turns my life has taken recently, so I'm not totally sure my head is screwed on straight. Apologies for scatterbrained-ness.)

I think good books will come first. More of a book report than a book review, but still necessary. After all, some people are still holiday shopping, and some others have new bookstore gift cards burning a hole in their pockets.

And so, without further ado,

a few book reports on novels I've recently loved:

Entwined, by Heather Dixon

Age/Genre: YA Fantasy Novel
Description: a Gothic, Victorian-era retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses"

NOTE: When I say Gothic, I mean the literary genre, which you can learn more about here if you're interested. It has scary bits, but it's not super scary. Think Jane Eyre-level of creepy.

Take the sister relationships of Little Women, multiply the four March girls by three, and set them in a world of domestic magic like you find in Robin McKinley's fairy tale retellings. Add a Dad of twelve, who strongly resembles Mr. Darcy - ie. I love you so much, but I'm way too stodgy to show it. Then stir in not one but three attractive suitors, spice it up with an ancient villain, and you get Entwined.

(If you've read this post, you know that McKinley's books and Pride and Prejudice are some of my favorites ever. So, this is high praise.)

Seriously, I adored this book - it's lovely and long. It's the type of book your mind returns to again and again, because a big chunk of your imagination wants to live in this world (without the villain, obviously). Also, with the balls and the twelve sisters and the fancy dresses, it satisfied my rarely indulged craving for girly princessy things - without going over the top.

My only regret is that this is currently the author's only book, so I can't go out and find more.

BONUS: check out agency sibling Dan Haring's interview with Heather Dixon here! (She's working on another book! One with more action!! SQUEE!!!)

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu

Age/Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Description: Modern, literary retelling of "The Snow Queen" (Are you sensing a trend here? Good. - I love fairy tales, and I want to spread that love.)

If you're into middle grade, you probably have heard the buzz around this title. I heard it too, and I was wary of it (I didn't connect with some of Ursu's previous middle grade heroines). But y'all - that buzz?

TOTALLY deserved.

This book is delicious with gorgeousness. It's the language that does you in - the narrator's voice. It's about how hard it is to be a child - how change can come, the worst kind; how there are some things you can fix, some things you can't, and some things you simply must try to do. Like A Tale Dark & Grimm, it shows you the dark side of fairy tales. Like Walk Two Moons, it breaks your heart and mends it again.

Let me give you some snippets from Breadcrumbs, snatched straight from tumblr, so you know what I mean:
It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms the world around it into a different kind of place. You know what it’s like—when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smoky poof, when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one that you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.

I believe that the world isn’t always what we can see. I believe there are secrets in the woods. And I believe that goodness wins out. So, if someone’s changed over night - by witch curse or poison apple or wereturtle - you have to show them what’s good. You show them love.


“Now, the world is more than it seems to be. You know this, of course, because you read stories. You understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath it. And you know that not everyone believes in those things, that there are people—a great many people—who believe the world cannot be any more than what they can see with their eyes.

But we know better.”


“Hazel had read enough books to know that a line like this one is the line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully about whether you want to cross it, because once you do it’s very heard to get back to the world you left behind. And sometimes you break a barrier that no one knew existed, and then everything you knew before crossing the line is gone.

But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead."

The Shadow Reader, by (agent sister) Sandy Williams

Age/Genre: Grownup Urban Fantasy
Description: Fairies and Shadow Trackers and Game of Thrones, Oh My!

Best book for adults I've read all year, hands down.

First off, I need to confess: I don't read a lot fantasy for adults. I used to - between grades 7 and 10, it was almost ALL I read, and I think I maxed out. I can't stand to eat Annie's microwave macaroni and cheese for that same reason, but every once and a while, I get a craving that can only be satisfied by Epic Fantasy of Awesomeness.

Cue: The Shadow Reader. I bought it back when it came out in October, where it sat unread in my neglected TBR pile (see the craziness of my life as described above). But I shipped it to myself here in Montana, knowing that I would eventually have more time.

Then, somewhere between Houston, TX and Roswell, NM, the craving hit. I needed fantasy. Not just any fantasy, but for The Shadow Reader. I started seriously wishing that I had packed it.

As soon as I got here, I dove straight into my box of books and devoured it. As in, stayed up into the wee hours of the morning until I reached the last page. That NEVER happens anymore. In fact, I tend to read the last pages of a book first, so I don't end up reading till 4AM. That didn't work with this book - I still couldn't sleep until I reached the last page.

Why? (I have been pondering this myself for a day or so.)

Lovable, tough, vulnerable, smart heroine? CHECK!

(Loved Mackenzie Lewis from page 1. That also never happens. Page three and chapter two, yes, but from page one, that's almost impossible with me.)

Two equally hot fairies to complete Mackenzie's love triangle? CHECK!

(Confession: I tend to hate love triangles. I hated them before Twilight popularized them. I'm not sure why, maybe I always felt sad and guilty for the Jacobs, maybe I disliked heroines for leading on dudes who deserved better, but the truth is: I usually put down a book if it featured a typical love triangle.

BUT I LOVED THIS ONE!! Because the love triangle doesn't define Mackenzie, or her relationship with both fairy dudes. And the love triangle is a symptom of Mackenzie's growth through the course of the book. So well done. My hat is off to you, Sandy!)

Complex, yet-easy-to-understand magic system and Fae society? Tight pacing? Great action? Lovable supporting characters? A civil war that shows horrific atrocities and heroism on both sides? CHECK!


Go, people - read these books, and love them the way I do. :-)