Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Great Indie Summer Read Giveaway

Free things are awesome. We all like free things. As long as they're good, free things. Better yet, we all like to win good, free things. Because that's exciting. Unfortunately, I'm too poor to host a giveaway. It's true. However, I figured I could direct you guys to one of the most impressive giveaways that's going on right now. Because, as we've already covered, free things are awesome.
I desperately love the promotional banners for this thing.
The Great Indie Summer Read Giveaway is about what the title implies it to be. It's great, it's during the summer, it involves indie books, and it's a giveaway. Simple, yeah?

Here's the dirt you really want to know: Katya over at CoffeeMugged is the lovely hostess and her giveaway is quite impressive. Over 100 different indie books are involved and it's super easy to enter. Fill out the entry form and bam, you're in. Better yet, there are a crazy number of ways to get more entries in the pot and new opportunities are posted every day. The giveaway is only running until July 31st though, so you better head on over and get your name in.

Do any of you know about any other super sweet giveaways that are going on right now? Or have you ever been the winner of anything particularly exciting (like my Across the Universe water bottle)? Tell me about it in the comments!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Do you finish "meh" books?

If you peruse the book/writing blog circles, you've probably seen this sentiment: There isn't enough time to be reading bad books.

In theory, this makes sense. I don't know about the rest of you, but I generally know pretty quick whether I'm going to like a book or not. Maybe it's the language or the elements of the story, but it only takes a couple chapters for that "off" feeling to set in. As Maggie Stiefvater said last Wednesday, writers start a book out with a certain number of "gimme points." Every time the author does something that irks the reader, they loose points, and the instant those points run out, the book gets dropped.

Now me? I'm pretty forgiving when I read a book. There are only a handful that I never bothered to finish.

You see, I always have this slight hope that things will get better by the end. That maybe if I read one more chapter, something awesome will happen. That somehow the book will wrap up so beautifully that everything I was feeling "meh" about in the beginning will fade away to nothingness.

Sometimes this happens, but very rarely. In my case, that's how I felt about Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments. Even though I couldn't get into City of Bones, I forced myself to read the sequel, City of Ashes, and was happily surprised by how much I liked it. Needless to say, I've been on the bandwagon ever since. But only because I pushed forward.

Which makes me curious about what you guys think. What books have you read lately that you couldn't get into?  And how long does it take you to put down a book? Are there any story elements that turn you off immediately? Or do you always push through to the end, even when you could be reading something you enjoy more? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On the matter of squid brains

Hee hee, get it? Ahem. Anyway, I haven't talked about squid for a while now. My inner marine biologist screams at this betrayal, and thus, it is time to remedy the problem. Because my birthday is tomorrow. And squid are cool. Just look at this picture:

And you can thank HURL for this awesomeness.

Awesome, right? Well get this, a squid's brain is shaped like a doughnut. Yes, really. With a hole in the middle and everything. Also, their esophagus goes through that hole in the center of their brain. This is a big deal because they have beaks, so they can't chew their food, they have to rip it off in bite-sized chunks. Therefore, if a squid tries to eat something too big, it can give itself brain damage. Yeah. That's right. BRAIN DAMAGE.

Mmmhmm. The more you know.

So, that's your fun fact of the day. Share it with the people, so that everyone, young and old, can savor this supreme knowledge. But what about you guys? Any cocktail-party worthy factoids for me? Do they dare compete with the splendor that is the squid brain? Gimme your best shot in the comments!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Facebook announcement

Facebook isn't really my thing. I spend somewhere between five and ten minutes a day there, and even that's pretty low key. Twitter is my choice of social media. But a while ago Nathan Bransford wrote a pretty convincing post on making a fan page on Facebook, and after putting it off for several months, I've done it. I have submitted to the Facebook.

If you're even the slightest bit inclined, feel free to check it out. And, of course, I'd totally be cool with it if you Liked me. Think of it as an early birthday present.*

And if you're curious and/or wary about this whole Facebook fan page thing, apparently Facebook is taking over the world. Check it out:

The World Is Obsessed With Facebook from Alex Trimpe on Vimeo.

I don't deny that you guys will eventually get a writerly tools segment on Facebook, but until then, what do you think about using Facebook as a marketing tool? Have you made yourself a fan page on Facebook? Or does that niggling sense of egotism turn you off? Tell me in the comments.

*In case you were wondering, my birthday is on the 25th. :)

ETA (06/22/11): Haha, ironically Nathan Bransford posted about Facebook today too, only he was questioning its downfall.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I write with Boromir

Let's cut to the chase. Right now I'm living with my parents and we have three cats. Let me tell you about them.
  1. Lucky: A fifteen-year-old Siamese who runs at the sight of any living creature that isn't part of our family. She also adores my father and follows him around the house, crooning with a special little "I love you" meow.
  2. Eowyn: Yes, she's named for that warrior woman from Lord of the Rings. She's also referred to as hotdog, because when we first rescued her from the ditch (all of our cats were abandoned as kittens), hotdogs were the only thing she would eat. Eowyn has perfected the mournful cat yowl.
  3. Boromir: Yes, like the dude from Lord of the Rings. What can I say, we have a running theme in this house. Our sheep are named after Grecian gods. Anyway, Boromir is also a girl. She is particularly fussy about being touched and is quite talkative. I've mentioned her before.
They are all good and dandy, but what you're all probably wondering is where I'm going with this. Well, while I've never had the joy of attending a writing retreat, I've can safely say that cats make some of the best writing partners.*

Now, I'm talking about Boromir in particular, as she's the only one who will visit me for extended periods of time. While I write, she likes to sleep on my bed. Occasionally I poke her with my foot, she lets out an adorable sleepy cat noise, and then we both get back to business.
Boromir is possibly the cutest cat ever. Just saying.
It doesn't seem like much, but it's nice having a low-key writing companion that isn't always asking why I haven't edited my next chapter yet or why I'm watching videos on YouTube. Also, Boromir's particular enough about being touched that her presence isn't super distracting. If I shower her with too much love, she'll whip out those teeth and claws as quick as a bullet.

So, yeah. That is my daring writing companion. But what about you guys? Who do you write with? Any pets, or are you lucky enough to have a writing buddy in the flesh? Tell me in the comments!

*Disclaimer: I am a rabid cat person.

Friday, June 17, 2011

In which I vlog

So those of you who follow me on Twitter already know this, but on Wednesday I did a vlog. Yeah. That's right. A vlog. In which you can see me moving and hear my lovely voice.

What really happened is that @steph_wooten@Thealsis, and I decided that maybe if we did vlogs together, it would seem less menacing and terrifying. And because I've been meaning to talk about the crafty projects I detailed two months ago, I spent the entire time talking about knitting and crocheting. Enjoy:

So there we go. I crocheted stuff. And did a vlog. Pretty successful bit of work there, eh? So what about you guys? Get anything particularly exciting done in the last few days? Tell me all about it in the comments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The flopping fish of my PAIN

I don't have a post for today.

It's kind of pathetic. Really. Writers are supposed to be able to "channel their pain into writing," or some such nonsense, but I kind of fail at that. There are dozens of examples of suicidal writers and drug-using writers and angst-ridden writers who all wrote beautiful works revolving around their hazy lives of misery. I am not one of those people.

When life has irritated or upset me, I don't write. My brain sputters a bit before completely shutting down--kind of like a fish in the shallows, flopping around in an attempt to get back into deeper water.

Anything like plot diagraming is out of reach because I can't focus on something that complex. Descriptions run flat and the joy of writing a delicious sentence vanishes because my vocabulary has been diminished to a few hundred words. Yes, my brain truly becomes that drowning fish.

Of course, when I'm happy and feeling good about life, writing goes a bit different. All those creative parts of my brain that get shut off in fish mode are switched back on. I have the power of word choice! And sentence structure! And ideas! Writing becomes fun again (even when my story is being cranky).

Hence this blog post. I won't go into details, but I'm annoyed right now and I couldn't craft a wittier metaphor than this beached fish thing. Not my best work. And I know, I could delete everything I just said about not having a prepared post and you guys would never know (theoretically). But that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?

Anyway, what do you guys think? Are you able to "channel your pain" when you write? Do you compose super heartfelt poetry or prose from the angst in your own life? Or does your writing thrive when you're happy and cheerful? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Are writing classes worth it? Part 2

Last Wednesday I talked about writing classes and whether I thought they were worth taking or not. Inadvertently, I caused some confusion because the post referred to workshop-style classes and I didn't bother explaining that. There are, in fact, two types of writing classes: writing workshops and how-to classes, and today I'm going to talk about both of them.

Writing workshops
  • What are they?
    Workshops are like a giant critique group. They consist of somewhere between 10-20 people and like to focus on short stories of the literary fiction persuasion. Students read published short stories and deliberate over what does and does not work in them. Students also write their own short stories, share them with the class, and receive a group critique. These are the writing classes I was referring to in last week's post.
  • Should I take one?
    Writing workshops are tricky because the quality of the workshop is based on the people in the class. I covered this in the last post, but for anyone who didn't read it, a quick summary: I think writing workshops are worth taking because you can learn a lot in a short period of time. Workshops force you to write and then teach why the elements in your story do or do not work.
How-to classes
  • What are they?
    These classes are kinda synonymous with the how-to writing books that you can find in any bookstore. You may or may not read published stories or write you own, but the professor definitely lectures. In general, these classes will cover basic story elements and writing techniques, but they can also get super specific and focus on stuff like genre. These are not the writing classes I was referring to.
  • Should I take one?
    I don't think so. Why? Because how-to classes set rules, and that boxes you in. Yes, I understand that taking a how-to class may be beneficial for a new writer. I get it. But you probably shouldn't be taking more than one how-to class. The best way to become an excellent writer isn't to listen to people telling you how to write. It's bucking up and writing. Maybe you don't know how dialogue works, but write some and then ask people what they think. Do it until you understand.
So there we go--my complete thoughts on writing classes. Now I know I already asked you guys about this, but do you have any new thoughts? What do you think about workshop classes and how-to classes? Is there an illustrious third class that I'm missing? Will I need to do another post on this subject? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I have a secret

You read right. A dread secret. It's something I've kept from you all, but maybe if I reveal it now, after we've all become so close, you'll hate me less. Do you think you could bring it in your hearts to forgive me, writers and readers and internet surfers of the world?

Okay. With that hearty exclamation of, "YES," I guess I can tell you.

Are you ready? Here it goes.

I do not like coffee.

*screams and gasps*

That's right. I'm a writer that doesn't like coffee. I don't even like the smell of coffee. When people hand me their frou frou coffee drink with the assurance that "you can't even taste the coffee," well guess what? I can still taste the evil brew lurking behind copious amounts of cream and flavored syrup.

Yes, it's true. I'm the person that goes into the coffee shop and gets a chai latte. Or a cup of earl grey. I scorn your macchiatos and your frappuccinos and your other very long, difficult to spell, Italian-based words. I'd rather drink something else.

Okay, now, in all seriousness. The stereotypical writer seems to love coffee and booze (hey, maybe that's a post for the future). Coffee for those neurotic writing sessions and booze . . . for the same reason. Hmm. Anyway, everyone likes to talk about coffee like it's their lifeblood. Except, well, me.

I like milk.

*crickets chirp*

So! I'm curious about you guys. Love coffee? Hate coffee? Are you ashamed or proud to fall in with the masses of coffee-drinking people? Can we still be friends after this terrible confession of mine? Is drinking coffee really part of being a writer, or is there more to it than that? Tell me about your drinking habits in the comments.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Are writing classes worth it?

ETA (06/13/11): So I realized there is a fatal flaw to this post. Feel free to read on, but once you're done, check out the continuation in part two.

A couple weeks ago I promised I'd talk about creative writing classes, so here we go.

To start with, there are two camps when it comes to writing workshops: those who've taken them and those who think they're a waste of time. Sure, there's can be some overlap there, but that's the basic gist. Being that I took creative writing classes in college, we can obviously see where I fall.

However, I do think that creative writing classes can be waste of time. They're set up as workshop, so everyone has to participate and it's basically a giant critique group with some learning thrown in. What you need to understand though, is that workshops are only as good as the people that are in them.

The first writing workshop I ever took was a low-level class that many non-majors took to fill their writing requirement. This meant that I got to read a lot of terribly written short stories. They all involved murder, sex, or pot. No lie. Even though my professor was awesome, it wasn't a helpful class because my fellow students didn't offer the kind of writing or critique that I could learn from.

The next few workshops I took were much better because a selection process was involved. For higher level classes, the program I took required you to submit work and pray that you were accepted. The only problem with these classes was the people. I don't want to say that "they just didn't get my work," but I actually had an experience where that kinda happened. My professor actually told me to not listen to the critique that my fellow classmates had given because it would stifle my writing.

Now, the best writing workshop I took was also the last one I took. It was a limited opportunity because it was taught by a visting professor, so I felt pretty awesome when I got accepted. Then my professor was absolutely amazing. Better yet, my peers were amazing too. They offered critique and opinions that got me thinking about what I wrote and what it meant to be writing. Maybe I didn't agree with everyone all of the time, but I respected what they thought.

Like I said before, a writing workshop is like a giant critique group. And unfortunately, it's hard to find a perfect critique group. If you don't mesh with the people, then you won't get anything out the class, and the odds are against you finding the right group. The wrong professor, one jerk who talks louder than everyone else, people that can't or won't take you seriously--none of that is worth it.

Maybe people can teach themselves how to write without taking writing classes. Maybe they really are a waste of time and money. But I can't agree with that 100%. If you can find that one perfect workshop group, then you can learn so much more than you could by yourself. You'll be able to look at good writing in its early phases and discuss what makes published writing so great. Finding that opportunity is worth taking writing classes.

So what do you think? Agree or disagree? Have you ever taken a writing workshop? Was it part of a college course or maybe part of community education? Did you have a good time, or could you not wait until it was over? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writerly Tools: Twitter


Next to Facebook it's one of the largest social networks out there. And, unfortunately, it kind of has a bad rap.

Why? Because too many people talk about what they cook for dinner every night. Like all social networks, Twitter should be more about other people than about yourself. That's what makes things interesting--not what dinner. Of course, if you're a foodie, then things are a bit different, but whatever.

Let's just cut to the chase: Twitter is more than it appears to be, and if you let yourself experiment with it, you'll end up having a lot of fun. Twitter is a marketing, researching, sharing, friendshiping tool. News breaks on Twitter. People become friends on Twitter. Contests are held and charities are born on Twitter. And yes, sometimes we just want to talk about what we had for dinner. But only when it's interesting. And not all the time. (ETA: And if you need an example of Twitter's power, Laini Taylor explains #YAsaves quite nicely)

So let's get down to business. Here are five reasons why Twitter isn't a complete waste of effort for writers:
  1. Twitter is a social butterfly
    A lot of writers and industry professionals are on Twitter and you're free to communicate with them. Really. Not only that, but there are few strings attached, so it can be anything from a minor interaction to a newfound friendship. Communication is key!
  2. Twitter is all about sharing
    It's easy to find something interesting on Twitter because people post interesting info all the time. It's a marketing dream and fantastic for promos and contests. At the same time, you don't want to alienate your audience by spamming them with links all of the time, so don't be posting links every five seconds.
  3. Twitter is super accessible
    Yeah. Twitter is like Facebook. It's available on pretty much every electronic device in existence. However, you can customize your experience with one of the dozens of available Twitter clients. A lot of people swear by TweetDeck, but I prefer Echofon.
  4. Twitter has hashtags
    Hashtags are basically the love child of search terms and blog post labels, but at their most frivolous they're like ironic asides. Anyway, some of the best ones for writers are #amwriting, #wordmongering, and #askagent.
  5. Twitter is 140 characters
    Don't give me that look--this is important. As writers, we need to be concise and to the point. No unnecessary purple prose for us. Twitter forces you to choose your words carefully, and that's something we all need practice with.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lexiconic pontifications

Words are the number one tool of the writer. Without words there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no chapters, and ultimately, there are no books. Sometimes the biggest problem of a writer is coming up with the right word for the situation. But this post is not about word choice deliberation. Or, at least, not in such a straightforward manner.

I have a question. How do you feel about using difficult vocabulary in books?

I'm specifically referring to the vocabulary found in YA and adult books. Why? Because most of the people reading them appear to have a fairly stagnant word bank.

That's right. Younger readers are encouraged to learn new words all of the time. But, teens and adults don't actively try to improve their vocabulary and, thus, the average reading level of adults in the United States is somewhere in the 8th-9th grade range.

I'm asking because a lot of people think challenging vocabulary is obnoxious--especially when there's a lot of it. Sure, the Kindle has made this less of an issue thanks to its dictionary function, but not many people have e-readers and not every word is in the dictionary (ie: foreign words).

Now I think that writers should feel free to use whatever words they want. The instant you start paring down your vocabulary to accommodate people, your story suffers. You have to write what you feel--what fits with the book. For example, what would a story in a cake shop be without mention of fondant?

However, you must be aware of your audience at the same time. No one wants to look up a word every five sentences. Make it easy to infer your meaning. Also, you definitely shouldn't be using complex vocabulary in picture books.

So what do you think about words like luxuriate and mien? Do you want to see them in a book? Or should writers try to limit their vocabulary? Do you think that writers threaten to alienate their audience or muddle the meaning of their stories through certain word usage? Tell me what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Book Roundup

Guess what? It's June. That means it's time for a lot of things, like the first day of summer, the end of the school year for everyone that hasn't graduated yet, the creepy bugs that haven't shown their ugly mugs yet, and, of course, my birthday. Yay! And, to start it all off, it's time for the monthly book roundup. Yay again!

For anyone who doesn't know, at the beginning of each month I do Twitter-length reviews of the books I read during the month prior. Genres are listed at the beginning of the reviews and my very favorites are marked with a star (). Can we say yay one more time? Yay!

I didn't do much reading in May, so let's get this over with, shall we?

Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci
YA Fiction--Terrorists poison the water supply of an American neighborhood. Nice exploration of terrorism and globalism. Pacing, however, was too slow for me.

Viku and the Elephant by Debu Majumdar
Picture Book--A boy and an elephant become friends in the forests of India. Not only is it charming and culturally aware, but the illustrations are adorable.

Fire by Kristin Cashore
YA Epic Fantasy--Companion to Graceling. Fire is the last human monster. Featuring strong characters, civil war, romantic entanglements, and horses. 

Hahahaha, and that's all folks! As you can see I hardly read anything, especially in comparison to April, month of literary productivity. It's pretty pathetic, yeah? Especially when you consider the books that are patiently waiting for me:
That's 21 books total, yo.
If you're curious, the breakdown is as follows: 5 library books, 11 books borrowed from various people, and 5 of my own books. They sit on my desk and stare at me longingly.

But yes. That's enough about me--what about you guys? Did you read some good books this month? Or did you let all your books chill out in an unloved pile like me? Tell me all about it in the comments.