I’m Back. Plus, A False Princess Announcement!

If there’s anyone left following my blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t been exactly . . . prolific in my posting this year. I could go into the why, but frankly a lot of it’s personal, some of it’s non-writing related busy-ness, and some of it’s sheer laziness—none of which makes for scintillating blogging. So I think I’m just going to say that I’m going to do my best get back on track as the year draws to a close.

HOWEVER. Just to get things started off right, I also have an announcement.

Ever since the release of The False Princess, I’ve been thrilled with the reader response to Kiernan. I loved writing him, and it appears that a lot of you love him, too, and want to see more of him. And, on December 10th, you can.


That’s right! My new e-short, “A Royal Birthday,” is coming out in just over a month! *excited, happy, nervous dance* In fact, you can pre-order it now!

“A Royal Birthday” takes place almost exactly one year before the beginning of The False Princess, on Sinda's 15th birthday, and is written from Kiernan’s point of view. It was so much fun for me to get into his head and I’m hoping that readers will enjoy it, too.  (Also, I’m totally digging the ivy in the e-short cover. So much GREEN . . . .)

So if there’s anyone left reading the blog, hello again! And if there’s anyone new, try not to be alarmed by the Nothing-like blankness of posts before this one. We’re going to do better.

And make sure to check out “A Royal Birthday” in December!

Event in Boston Next Week

Just a note to say that I’ll be at the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s Annual Conference in Boston next week. (And I’m super excited because, while AWP isn’t huge for genre or YA authors, Jane Yolen will be there, too. I love her writing, and am frankly still basking from the moment when, during her trip to Tulsa to hand out the Tulsa library’s young people’s writing awards when I was 17, she complimented my dress.)

In any case, I’ll be running Nimrod’s book table and I would love to chat with anyone who’d like to stop by and say “Hi.” The most reliable time to find me will be during the morning, in the first couple of hours of the bookfair. After that, I'll still be around, but it will be a little hit or miss.

Association of Writers and Writing Program’s Annual Conference
March 7th-9th, 2013
Boston, MA
Find me in the morning at Nimrod International Journal’s Bookfair Table (D5)

Seriously, I’d love to talk to any fantasy or YA folks hiding out at AWP, so stop by and see me!

Reading Report and Best Books 2012

For the last three years (partially for my own amusement and partially for, hopefully, the greater cause of foisting books upon others), I’ve been tracking the number and types of books that I made it through during the last year. I’m a little later than usual, but it’s once again time for my Annual Reading Report and Best Books of 2012! (And, thanks to my Excel-happy husband, I can geek out this year with graphs!)

I read a total of 95 books this year. That’s down 8 from last year, but high enough that I still feel good about it. Here’s a break-down by genre. And here’s my usual caveat about how it’s sometimes pretty tough to figure out exactly which genre I’m going to categorize a particular book as! Particularly when it comes to parsing between YA paranormal/YA fantasy and between YA science fiction/YA dystopian novels. (Seriously, the paranormal/fantasy thing gave me fits, though I expect I’m not alone in this.)

Books Read in 2012, By Genre

And to compare . . .

Books Read in 2011, By Genre

And for fun, YA vs Non-YA for 2012 and 2011

Looking back at last year’s list, I see that adult fantasy and YA fantasy flip-flopped on the list (with pretty similar numbers for the switch, too, which is funny).  Still reading more YA sci-fi than five years ago, as it more is available, and this continues to make me happy.  I did a bit more re-reading this year, a lot of that due to the fact that a lot of sequels came out this year and I am mentally incapable of reading a sequel without reading the preceding book right before it. (26 of my reads were re-reads.) It bugs me when I’m reading along and can’t remember who a minor character was, or why exactly so-and-so is mad at so-and-so. Which is why I’m as terrified as excited for whenever the next Song of Ice and Fire book comes out—because having to read 5,000 pages of preceding books is going to take some time.

Now that I know what I read, which books were my absolute best you-must-read-them-now favorites? Here’s the list! (Along with one more caveat, and that’s that while I’m telling you what my favorite books were that I read last year, sometimes I’m slow and don’t get to a book in the year it actually came out. So some of these might have come out in 2011. But I still read and liked them best in 2012.)

Days of Blood and Starlight by Liani Taylor. This was hands-down my favorite book of 2012. I'll soon by posting a very fangirly ode to it, and I can’t say enough awesome things about this series, which starts with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It’s dark, sensuous, nerve-wracking, hysterical, heartbreaking, and different than most other YA out there. And if you can listen to the audio, do so. Khristine Hvam does a great job on it—I now hear her voice when I’m reading the books.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I loved this very original take on Cinderella. I mean, fairy tales? Check. Cyborgs? Check. Hot princes? Check. All the flavor of the original fairy tale is here, but with changes that delight and keep an old classic new. I can’t wait for the sequel, Scarlet, which happily comes out soon.

Welcome to Bordertown edited by Ellen Kushner and Holly Black. I’m a bit young to have been into the shared-world Bordertown stories when they first arrived on the scene in the 1980s. I didn’t read any of them until several years ago, but I think I’m as thrilled as any old-time Bordertowner that there are new stories being written about it. The sometimes weird and edgy mix of fairy tales, rock and roll, long-lived elves, and kids looking for a new life is intensely appealing to me. And the fact that Bordertown stories are written by different writers makes reading them a little like doing a jigsaw puzzle, so that you’re always looking for the way the pieces fit together, and that makes them even more fun.

Black Heart by Holly Black. Another contender for one of the top-top spots on the list. Black Heart wraps up the Curse Works series and in grand style. What can I say? I love Cassel and the way he’s torn between wanting to be good and his natural conman nature. I love his usually fraught relationship with Lila. I love the world that Holly has built, which contains so many tiny details of how a world with curse workers would differ from ours that it seemed entirely real.  In short, I love this series, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we might see more of it someday.

The Master of Heathcrest Hall by Galen Beckett. Another finale, this one finishes up the trilogy begun with The Magicians and Mrs. Quent. I was entirely satisfied (though occasionally heartbroken), and know that I’ll be returning to this world whenever I need a Jane Austen fix . . . but with magic thrown in.

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare. Cassie Clare is hogging all the teen love angst in YA. Seriously, there’s enough in Clockwork Prince that there shouldn’t be any left over for anyone else. But I love it! Looking forward to seeing Tessa completely come into her own in Clockwork Princess—she’s very nearly there in Clockwork Prince—though not looking forward to almost certainly having my heart stomped on re: Will and Jem. (Although this does lead to the question: Is teen love angst in YA a renewable resource? Can we harness this to solve the energy crisis? Must tell husband to stop teaching chemistry and focus all mad scientist talents on this instead . . .)

Saints Astray by Jacqueline Carey. I loved the sequel to Santa Olivia. It’s not as dark or fraught as the first one, but I was in fact charmed by its slightly frothier nature. And I actually loved that the end to a “superhero” book was like no other I’d ever read—and probably much more realistic.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. As always, Maggie’s characters are real from the moment they walk on the page. She’s so, so great at making people just pop off the page. And the mixture of Celtic lore and modern America here is skillful and intriguing. As with so many of these books, waiting with bated breath for the sequel.

Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake. I especially love Anna and Girl for their male protagonist, Cas, who is sardonic in a way that had me laughing out loud at times. And I love Anna, who is terrifying and totally sympathetic at the same time.  Creepy and dark, but with an edge of sarcastic humor and an end that had me crying, these books fulfill quite a few of my reading niches.

Mascot News

It’s been a while since I posted an update on my two mascot dogs, Nemo and Zuul. And since they’ve had ACTUAL EXPLOITS in recent days, I thought I’d share. . . .

It’s bedtime several nights ago. I am already in bed, having been struck down earlier with the migraine to end all migraines (really, at one point I was curled up on the bathroom floor, just waiting to throw up. It was Not Fun). I haven’t quite managed to go to sleep yet, though, and I hear Matt calling for the dogs. Then I hear him come into the bedroom and rummage around for a flashlight and go back out and call some more. Now, our backyard isn’t huge, and there’s nowhere to hide in it, so I’m quickly realizing that something’s wrong. Just about the time that I’ve decided to haul my migrainey self out of bed, though, I hear the jingle of collars, followed by the slam of the door and Matt saying exasperatedly, “You are bad, Nemo!”

Because, apparently, the dogs have decided that ONE backyard isn’t enough for them. No, they need TWO. After checking that the gate was locked, Matt had finally, in desperation, climbed up to peer over the neighbors’ privacy fence into their backyard and saw our dogs trying to sneak back under their trailer and through a hole in the fence that we hadn’t realized was there. (Of course, they did this sneaking poorly, because while Nemo is completely convinced that he is as sneaky as a master ninja he is, in fact, about as sneaky as a turnip.) So we lock them in for the night, get up in the morning and block the hole as best we can.

The real kicker here doesn’t happen until the afternoon, though, when we see the neighbor come home from work. So we go over to tell him that our dogs got into his yard, we’ve done the best we can to block the hole, and could he let us know if he sees them in there again? His response: “Oh yeah, they’ve been doing that for a while.”

Which leads me to the question: What else are they doing while we’re out of the house? Hosting illicit chew bone gambling rings? Removing their collars and streaking naked through the neighborhood? (It also leads me to the question of why my neighbor didn’t think I might like to know that my dogs had taken up occasional residence in his yard, but that’s another story.) Apparently, however, we might need to revise how much we make fun of Nemo for his nonsneakiness, because it sounds like they’ve been doing this for about a month and we’ve never seen a hint of it before this. Or perhaps Zuul is unexpectedly the ringleader of other-yard-takeover (which would be strange because Zuul is rarely the leader of anything) and has been serving as Jedi master of sneakiness to Nemo’s padawan.

So that’s the story on my mascots. I’ve been mulling over the best punishment for their waywardness. I’m leaning toward dressing them up in Christmas costumes and taking pictures of them to document their shame.

Nemo is unrepentant.

Zuul just thinks he is more fabulous now.

Book Rec: Adaptation

Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.

Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened, where they are--or how they've been miraculously healed.

Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction--and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.

One of the recent trends that I’m really glad we’re seeing in YA is that of science fiction novels targeted at girls. A few years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a bona fide sci-fi novel in the YA section of the bookstore, and particularly not one promoted to female readers.  As an adult reader of sci-fi and fantasy, of course, I could recognize quite a few sci-fi books trying their best to disguise themselves as dystopian novels (because really, a lot of “dystopian” novels are really just science fiction novels throwing on their best dingy clothes and some rusty accessories in the hope that teens who are put off by the idea of “sci-fi” won’t notice). Now, however, we’re seeing true sci-fi tropes and storylines cropping up in YA—generational spaceships in Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, cryostasis in Anna Sheehan’s A Long, Long Sleep, cyborgs in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. To me this is exciting, because it means that the stigma that many teen girls associate with science fiction (that it’s geeky, or just for boys, or uninteresting) is loosening a bit.

And now I’m thrilled that we can add Malinda Lo’s Adaptation to the list of real YA science fiction. Adaptation is new ground for Lo, whose previous two books have been firmly high fantasy, so I was curious to see how she made the transition to sci-fi.

The answer is: Very Well. Adaptation starts off quickly with a Big Creepy Event—in this case, birds causing over 100 planes across America to crash in the space of a few hours—and doesn’t stop moving until the last page.  What’s interesting initially is that, after introducing the weirdness, Lo doesn’t let Reese, her protagonist, experience much of it (though the part that she does experience is sufficiently nail-biting). Rather, Reese and her friend, David, miss the military lock-down that the rest of American experiences because of a car accident, and only wake up once the trouble has passed somewhat.

This adds to the other side of Adaptation, because the novel is as much a novel of conspiracy as it is sci-fi. (And no, I’m not going to spoil exactly how it’s sci-fi, though readers who are paying attention to where Reese’s car flips over will have a clue.) Reese, and thus the reader, spends a lot of the novel not knowing what’s real or who to trust, and Lo plays this aspect of the novel off with ease. This will continue into the sequel, as the novels ends with as many questions as it does answers.

So, in many ways, Adaptation is a complete divergence from Ash and Huntress, Lo’s first two novels. Where it doesn’t diverge is in the awesome relationships. That we have more LGTB character in YA is vastly important to Lo (and really, if you don’t read her blog, you should, because she always has insightful things to say on LGTB matters and diversity in YA), and she once again provides a compelling same-sex relationship as Reese discovers in the course of the novel that she’s bisexual, and this revelation results in a love triangle that made me gnash my teeth in indecision over who I liked best for her.

So pick up Adaptation if you’re looking for more YA sci-fi, or even if you’re a little hesitant about the genre. There’s more than enough in this book to appeal to a variety of reader, and I think you’ll be glad that you did.

To Read or Not to Read . . .

I have a conundrum. On December 14th, I’ll join in the solidarity of nerddom and plunk down my $9.00 to see the opening installment of The Hobbit. There’s no question about this—I’ll be there opening day (or if I’m being honest, maybe the day after, cause I’m really just not sure I can deal with the midnight opening hordes anymore, or that my body can deal with the lack of sleep). But there is a question about something—one that I have to answer pretty quickly. And that is whether or not I’m going to reread the book before the movie.

See, I must tell you that I Am Not One with most book/movie adaptations. Especially not initially. My overwhelming tendency, upon seeing a movie made of a book I like, is to feel a) deflated, b) irritated, or c) so filled with rage that I am liable to chew the face off anyone who tells me that was a good movie. I cringe every time they add a chase scene that didn’t appear in the book; I lean over and whisper, “What about ----?” whenever it becomes clear that something has been left out; I sigh with resentment when characters are changed. (It must be said that I completely avoid movies that have so obviously gotten it completely wrong that aliens in space could tell—really, I will never lay eyes on The Dark Is Rising movie or The Time Traveler’s Wife, because the trailers alone made me want to gouge my eyes out.)

I’ve tried to get better about it. I remind myself that movies and books are different forms of storytelling. That what works in a book sometimes just won’t work in a movie. That movies have far less time to tell the story, and by God something has to be left out or we’d all be sitting there for five days. I read reviews by other people who loved the book as much as I did and yet somehow also manage to like the movie and try to appreciate both as they’ve been able to do.

And sometimes, after getting some distance and upon repeat viewing, I’m able to come around to liking the movie. The original LoTR movies are like that. I watch them mainly happily now (though I will never, ever, EVER forgive Peter Jackson for what he did to Faramir. No, I will not.). Mainly, though, I tend to watch movies based on books once, shrug a “the book was better" shrug, and never return. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies, for instance, but I doubt I’ll rewatch them. Same with The Golden Compass, or The Hunger Games.

So that’s my movie/book background. It’s something I know about myself. But it still leaves me with the question: Do I read the book beforehand so that I will know, without a doubt, every facet of every scene that’s been altered or added or deleted, or do I let the memory of the book stay hazy, so that I just have the suspicion that something may have been changed?

Unlike with most of the YA books that have recently been made into movies, it’s been a pretty long while since I read The Hobbit and, honestly, I’ve read it far less than I’ve read LoTR. So there’s a big case to be made for just letting it lie. Especially since I know that they’ve changed it significantly, adding in a lot of material that, while does occur in the timeline, doesn’t actually appear in The Hobbit but in the Appendices. I already feel suspicious of this. The rage-tendency part of my is already screaming about how Galadriel and Legolas might have been doing a lot of things while Bilbo was trekking toward the Lonely Mountain, but appearing in the book wasn’t one of them. So really, I’ll probably enjoy the movie more if I don’t read the book ahead of time, if I don’t force my brain to highlight each and every change.

But there’s still the part of me that wants to know. That wants to be able to compare. And, slightly less neurotically, that wants to be able to anticipate and get ready for the movie. Because, all the above to the contrary, I am excited about it. I want to see Middle Earth in color-saturated, IMAX-y awesomeness. I want to see Martin Freeman play Bilbo, because I love him in Sherlock and I think he’ll do a great job. I want (some years in the future, sadly) to hear Smaug talk with Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. I want to see Ian McKellan rock Gandalf again. I’m hoping and praying and hoping that they get the riddle scene right, because if they do it will be spine-chillingly cool. So reading the book would get me in the right mood. It would ground me in Middle Earth, this place that I’ve been hanging out in since I was literally seven and my dad would tell me parts of the stories in simple words and then we’d pretend to be Bilbo and Gollum.

So I’m torn. To read or not to read—that is the question. I’ve got a little over a month to figure out the answer.

Writing Wednesday: To Be a Writer, Be a Reader

I was once part of a conference where we were hosting one-on-one editing sessions: blocks of time where the editors had done critiques on short stories and novel sections and then sat down to talk to the writers about them. As one of the editors, I was talking to a woman about the manuscript she had turned in. Sadly, her story wasn’t very good—tons of clichés, poor writing, etc. To try to get a handle on what she was going for with it, I asked her what she liked to read. Her answer: “I don’t read very much.”

I was completely flummoxed by this. Because for me, wanting to be a writer without first being a reader is like someone who hates eating wanting to be a food critic for Bon Appetite. Just as someone who doesn’t like food probably won’t be able to tell a good recipe from a bad one, a writer who doesn’t read the work of other writers won’t have the tools to tell good stories.

So here are a few pieces of advice I give everyone who wants to be a writer:

Read. To start with, just read, because any reading that you’re doing is ultimately going to make you more sensitive to style, pacing, character development, and all the other tools you’ll need in your own writing.

Read widely in your genre. Want to write a YA science fiction novel? Read other YA science fiction novels. Same goes for mystery, romance, fantasy—whatever you’re writing. When you read in your own genre, you learn a lot of useful things. How long do these sorts of books tend to be? Does the age of the narrator matter? What are the general rules and tropes of this genre? (Because you can’t break the rules until you know what they are.) What’s already been done here—and what’s been done to death? In short, really know the genre you’re writing in. Believe me, readers can tell when a writer doesn’t have much familiarity with their genre.

Read in genres that you’re not writing. While it makes sense to read in your genre, reading outside it might sound counterintuitive. But it isn’t. Different genres have different strengths and reading outside your own genre will let you tap into those. Also, reading outside your genre can get you thinking about your book or stories in new ways. When writing The False Princess, for instance, I read mystery novels to see how they balanced between parsing out clues to their mysteries and holding them back—how they gave readers enough information to make their big reveals make sense without giving them away too early.

Didn’t like a book? Figure out why. So you’re reading a book and not liking it, maybe enough to put it down right now. Or you read a book to the end and thought, Wow, I won’t be recommending that to anyone. This might seem like a waste of your reading time but, as a writer, it actually isn’t. Whenever you dislike a book, take a moment to figure out why. Was the style clunky? Did the characters act out of character? Was the end too easy or neat? Was the villain unmotivated? If you can figure out what turned you off to a book, you can make sure to avoid those same pitfalls in your own writing.

Seriously, for me, reading is the first step to becoming a writer (and possibly the most important after “actually write something.”) If you’re already a big reader, you’re on the right track; just make sure that you’re reading critically, and thinking about your own writing a little while you’re enjoying yourself. If you aren’t a reader, but want to write, head down to your library or bookstore. You’ll be amazed at how it changes your writing—for the better.

How has your reading helped your writing?

On the Air!

Last year, I made my "radio debut" in my friend Tony Frazier's Halloween Podcast. Tony is a great writer (he's recently finished up his serialized superhero novel, Run Digger Run, on his website), and he's also a big old-time-radio fan.  Last year's project was hugely fun, and I've been itching for another chance to try my hand--or voice--in another radio play. Luckily, Tony wrote another another fun and creepy 1940s-style play for Halloween this year, and I was thrilled to be able to take part in the production again this year. I'm a little behind in getting the link up (I've been under the weather since Nimrod's Writing Conference last week, but finally starting to feel better), but the podcast is more creepy-Lovecraft than Halloween-specific, so you'll still enjoy it even a few days into November. So, without further ado:

The Final Broadcast

One of the things I'm always impressed by with Tony's radio plays is the way that he pulls them all together. I recorded all my lines completely alone, without any of the other cast members or any idea of the kinds of sound effects Tony would add in. That can be a little strange, wondering if you're pitching your performance at a 7 when everyone else is at a 10, unsure of whether your reactions are appropriate, etc. Listening to it, however, I don't think you can tell that all the lines were recorded separately at all--it sounds that cohesive. Also, the sound effects are awesome--and I love the crackles and pops that Tony inserted to give it the sound of an old recording.

And I have to give a big shout-out to my husband, Matt, who is making his own Radio Debut as Hal! Matt recorded his lines while I was out of the house, and about halfway through the recording process I got a text that said, "Wow, I hope the neighbors don't call the police with all my terrified shouting."

So, in other words, you might want to leave the lights on while you listen . . .

Writing Wednesday: Regency Character and Place Name Generator

I’ve talked before about some of the main resources I use to make up character names. But sometimes I still need a little help, particularly if I’m looking for names that evoke a particular “feel.” Such as, for instance, Regency names, which usually have a particular flavor to them.

So, if I’m feeling stuck, I sometimes hop over to Stuff and Nonsense, which has a Regency Name Generator, a Regency Place Name Generator, and even a Gothic Romance Title Generator. It’s a fun, silly site. Here are the place names I got on a recent trip:

Thrushbrae, Torringnish, Shillgree Green, Penimere Sands, Sagehollow, Prestbottom Cottage, and Wycliffe. (Also, really randomly: Bees.)

As you can see, the names exactly as they’re generated are kind of hit or miss and sometimes the same words keep popping up, but just running through a bunch of them is sometimes enough to get me moving in the direction of the sound that I’m looking for, because they all do have that Regency sound (with the possible exception of Bees).

(I also have to say that I just get a hoot out of messing around with the Gothic romance title generator. The Wind of Deceit, The Vampire of Doubt, Of Love and Ghosts, The Shades of Moongate Manor, Bride of Defiance, Moonswept Traitor . . . I could play with that all day.)

Giveaway Winners!

First off, thanks to everyone who entered my False Princess paperback celebration giveaway! And the winners are . . .




If you two would please email me with your contact info and mailing addresses, I'll get the books out to you! (And please let me know how you would like the book personalized.)

Again, thanks to everyone who entered and especially to everyone who gave a conspiracy theory--I had a lot of fun reading them!