Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fallen, the series (a review)

Our library has a neat new thing called 7 Day Check Out.  No renewals, no holds.  The most popular books are placed there and it's sort of every woman for herself. I like that  in a library now and then.  What's fun about it to me is that it's a quick way to see what's popular in YA and MG in my area.  If I see something with multiple copies, I make sure to grab it and read it.  The last series I read this way was the Fallen series, by Lauren Kate:  Fallen, Torment, Passion, Fallen In Love (short stories), and Rapture.  I was sick as a dog and in bed for three days, so I did a LOT of reading all at once.  I really enjoyed the characters.  The writing was in the Twilight category, although she did have some really neat turns of phrases that caught my eye.  I think it's tough to pull off fallen angels, but she did it, and she had a great story arc that comes to fruition at the end.  There are times when I got impatient and felt the plot dragged in the second book (again, much like the Twilight series), but it was enjoyable read.  I won't go out and buy it (sorry!), but I can see why it's popular.  And the covers are GORGEOUS.  If you liked House of Night, Twilight, or any other goth-urban-fantasy set of novels :), then this will be right up your alley.

#PitchWars! Update!

The results came in for #PitchWars and while I didn't win, I was honored to be an alternate for the fabulous Brenda Drake!  Check out her blog to see the winners and follow the links to learn more about wonderful mentors.  I'm proud that I had the guts to enter and I'm thankful that my friend Carol goaded me into it. :)  Everyone needs a writing buddy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

#PitchWars!


So, I'm participating in #PitchWars.  Many thanks to my friend Carol Pavliska over at Sardines in a Can for encouraging me to join in, over on Twitter. :)

#PitchWars is a contest where a few writers are chosen by writing mentors to become a team and prepare pitches for agents. There are a lot of talented people participating and I'm just glad to get to throw my hat into the ring.  I'm a hopeful and there's a writing meme, My Next Big Thing, going around, so I'm answering it!

Here we go...


1.  What is the title of your book?  THE WORST VILLAIN EVER


2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was working on a YA dystopian and literally, sitting at my computer, out of no where, I had this image of a young, gangly boy getting a letter of acceptance into the Academy of Villainy and Wrongdoing.  I knew he was in a family of villains, but that he suffered from a terrible case of being too nice-- and he has to try to toughen up to make it through even the try-outs.  I wrote out the basic idea on a notecard and started typing.  I wrote 12,000 words that first day and kept on going the next. 


3. What genre does your book fall under?

Middle grade, light science fiction, with a touch of fantasy
(I wish I could say, "superhero genre" which tends to straddle science fiction and fantasy!)

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

George, my sweet and sincere wanna-be-villain...well, I am not sure.  He would have to be a bit gawky, but adorable.These photos are from the Mockingjay Site:

Ethan Jamieson looks a little too young in this picture, but the hair and the smile and earnestness is all just right.







(Now imagine that face and curly hair atop of a black leotard Villain Outfit, with red flames running up the legs...:  :)  )


Alexander, George's highly accomplished evil big brother, could be played by this guy:
 
From this website Maybe with a trim in the back of his hair.  Alex is, as I say in the manuscript, slick enough to skate on.

Sam, George's secret best friend at the academy, needs to be a suave-looking kid, with a skater's cut that slides over one eye.
 
Dakota Goyo
Dakota Goyo

 or maybe like this kid, adding the skater cut and a sleek black leather jacket:
 

 
(e9yfjo.jpg
http://glamourous-world.blogspot.com/2009/11/best-child-actors.html)


Captain Perfecto:


Actor John Krasinski at the Hollywood premiere of "Leatherheads."
Actor John Krasinski has the jaw, chin and smile for it, and the dark wavy hair.  But I am picturing big and buff for Captain Perfecto and he is not exactly a body-builder type.  Hollywood could probably do that for him.

Truthfully, though,  if I stop and think about George being on the screen, I mostly imagine the story animated, in the style of The Incredibles.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


When George's too-nice-tendencies put him in the Losers-R-Us class at the Academy School of Villainy and Wrongdoing, he decides to do whatever it takes to honor his family's evil villain name, even when it means going up against the strongest, biggest superhero of all time, a superhero who, as it turns out, has a super-big-problem of his own.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

While self-publishing is a great choice for many authors, I truly want an agent. More and more children are reading in Kindles and Nooks, but the adults who buy for them still buy paperbacks.  I've been reading agent and editor blogs for several years now and it's clear to me that agents know things about this business that I do not.   They amaze me, with all their knowledge and connections (and that's not just a suck-up statement.)

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your novel?

I wrote the first 12,000 words in one day.  I finished the first draft the second day, but only because the first draft of this manuscript was more like an early reader than a full MG manuscript.  I got a critique that suggested I'd have a better chance of placing the novel if I A) expanded the story significantly  and B) changed the ending.  I did both, and it took me about 4-5 months, I think.  I generally work fairly quickly.

I am also doing an online graduate degree program for my master's in library science, so that takes a lot of time, as does taking care of my family, but I still find  time to work on my current project, which is YA.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


Children who enjoyed but have outgrown ZAC POWERS would like this, as would those who laughed at 101 THINGS TO DO TO BECOME A SUPERHERO...(OR EVIL GENIUS)-- which is a funny guidebook, not a story.  Kids who enjoy my manuscript will most likely be the kind of kids who grow up to enjoy ARTEMUS FOWL.  There is a sweetness to George that makes him a bit unlike traditional super-villain-focused books or manga.


What is NOT a good comp book is one that sounds remarkably similar, VILLAIN SCHOOL by Stephanie Sanders.  In fact, when I read the back cover, I felt like I was going to be ill, since I had already started querying and the log line is so similar.  However, after reading the book, I knew that the two were quite different.  That world is based on fairy tales and horror tales, including a warlock, the son of the Big Bad Wolf and the daughter of Dracula.  It is very much an adventure/mystery book, focused on action, not character.  The tone of Ms. Sanders book is for older MG readers, with a snarky tone appropriate for that age group.  My manuscript is solely superhero/supervillain and my main character is sweet, a bit clueless, and someone readers root for.  Mine has a much tighter focus on the character growth happening even throughout the adventure that he must face.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It just struck me from out of the blue.  I set aside the YA I was writing and worked only on this.  I have always loved superheroes and supervillains, though.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

An editor who did a critique at the SBCWI conference said it was like, "The Incredibles Gone Bad."  My story has a lot of fun footnotes that poke fun at the supervillain culture, some of which will make adults laugh as much as the kids, and there are lots of nifty villain devices included. 

Additionally, there is a huge interest in superheroes and supervillains in our country, evidenced by the billions sold in Avenger's movie tickets, not to mention all the other movies, games, gadgets and clothing.  My story taps into that already-present interest.  I personally have loved the world of superheroes and supervillains form the time of my first Marvel comic book subscription to the X-Men when I was in fourth grade. 


Excerpt
 
"Careful with that one," a dry voice said behind him. "It might burn all your hair off and wouldn't that be embarrassing?"

George whirled, holding the ray gun sheepishly behind his back. The man approaching him laughed, an honest laugh that didn't sound at all darkly evil. Good news to his ears. George's eyebrows raised. He stood, mouth gaping.

"All the kids grab that one first. I really should disarm it. Actually…" The man looked thoughtful for a moment. He reached over and pushed a red button on the side of the gun. "I think you should disarm it. As in, right now. In two minutes, it will explode." Then the man gave a charming smile -- George just now realized what a fabulous tool that smile was for such a sneaky villain -- and walked out the door.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Storybird story

I've written a few stories on Storybird and it's really been more fun than I thought it would.  I thought I would share one with you.

The Rain Dancer

To be clear, the art is not mine.  Storybird uses the art of professional artists who get paid when people order the books for their families or friends that they write.  For example, my six year old created a book about Christmas that I will be buying for her for Christmas-- and the artist who created the beautiful art that inspired her will get compensation for it.  I still own the rights to my story without the images and the artist still owns the rights to the images, but Storybird owns the rights to the combination of the two in a story format.  Works for me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Storybird.com-- another fun writing tool!

Check out storybird.com for free art to inspire you to write stories inspired by them.  The stories you create can be private or shared within the storybird library!  The art available is really quite amazing!  Some is just truly beautiful and some is hilarious.  I put together a quick social story on using peaceful negotiation to solve fighting. 

http://storybird.com/books/fighting-fair/

Saturday, October 13, 2012

LitLift! Free Cool Writing Software

So, I am in a library class called Multimedia Resources and Services, so my mind is on apps and programs-- a lot.  Free apps, specifically and Web 2.0 tools.  I went into this class kicking and screaming, but now I find it more fun that I thought possible to use these tools.  So today, I thought to myself, "Well, I know I've tried Scrivner, but is there a free writing app, I wonder, that might help me structure my new WIP?"

And I typed it in Google and found litlift.com, which is free writing software online.  It's so easy to use!  And so fun!  I know those of you who just down and write won't use something like this, but for the rest of us, this might be a fun tool to try out during NANO!

Peace out-
Amy


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson

I had read an article about how Laurie Halse Anderson's book Speak has been challenged a number of times in school libraries.  There was a case in Republic, Missouri, in which Speak, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut were challenged, with the intent to be removed.  Of those books, only Speak was retained.  Speak is about date rape and I wanted to read it to see what I thought.  The library didn't have it at the branch I was at, but they did have Twisted, which is by the same author.  So I checked it out and put Speak on hold.  That'll be one of the next books I read.

The author:  The back sleeve of the book reads, "Laurie Halse Anderson is the author of the multiple award-winning, New York Times best-selling novel Speak, as well as Catalyst (an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults) and Prom (a New York Times Best Seller.)" She clearly has credibility and any book of hers will come with the understanding that no matter what people think of her topics, credible sources say she is writing great literature.

Twisted is about a boy, Tyler, who used to be scrawy  and picked on, the ultimate high school nerd guy who doesn't even get the rights to brag about being super smart.  He's failing his AP classes.  He had pulled a prank the year before to stand out, to make himself NOT be That Loser Guy, but it involved ruining school property and suddenly, he's got a bad rep and a probation officer.  He also spent the summer doing hard physical labor as part of his community service and now when school begins, he is not scrawny anymore.  He's had a growth spurt and he's built.  The girl of his dreams notices him, but things aren't that easy.  His dad is really psycho and his mom drinks and avoids the controlling abusive nature of the dad.  When Tyler gets accused of something really bad related to Girl of His Dreams, everyone is all too willing to believe he'd do something like that.

The voice is very realistic.  Anderson captures the pain of the big, awful high school experience so well that it almost physically hurt to read it.  The cliques, the unspoken rules of social conformity-- yep, she caught it all.

SPOILER:  Stop reading now if you hate spoilers.

My one complaint is the ending, which I felt was really fairly unrealistic and rushed as far as his resolution with the father, but she's an award winning author, so I guess I just have a different opinion.  That's okay.  Overall, I think this is a very good book and captures the estranged teen voice well, ending with a hopeful message that involves reinventing oneself.

MLS Degree...in the works

I am excited to announce that I have begun my Master of Library Science degree from Texas Woman's University (TWU), with an eye towards becoming a school librarian in a few years.  I love books and love kids, so it seemed like a logical choice.  I'm finishing up my first two classes now, and I've learned so much!

My studies this semester have taught me a lot about the difference between book selection and book censorship and how easy it is for librarians to self-censor book choices in order to avoid controversy.  I've also learned that librarians are generally fierce defenders of the First Amendment, which includes the right to receive information, and the courts have ruled that children have this right as well, and that this right does not end just because they are in a school library.  So, a school library has the unique mission of supporting the school curriculum, but it also is there to support children's love of reading and their right to read age-appropriate materials in the library even if not everyone agrees with the ideas in the books.  I'll be reading some of the more frequently challenged MG and YA books out there right now to see what's going on.

As I review books here now, I am doing so partly as a reminder to myself of what I've read and what I, personally, thought about it and things I noticed about it.  It's not an official book review of the type you might see on Good Reads.  There are many great reviews there and I highly recommend that site if you aren't already a member.  :)

Amy

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What Goes Into Making a Book at Random House

Here's an incredible look inside Random house, into what goes into making a book.  For me, it highlights all the reasons why a would-be-author might still want a traditional publisher, rather than self-publishing.  These people work really hard!

Thanks to 22 Words for posting the link!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Hey, Amy, What's with All the Positive Reviews on Your Blog?"

A friend asked me if I just love any ol' book I read, because all the reviews on here are quite positive.  Perhaps you have wondered the same.  It's a fair question!

No, I do not love all the books I read.  I read a lot and certainly, there are some that are not the right fit for me--which is the point.  Just because they were not the right fit for ME doesn't mean someone else won't love it.  It's one thing to be one of many reviewers on Goodreads or Amazon.  I read those reviews and I value the ones that don't flinch from negative comments if they feel the writer deserves them. Sometimes I might give a book two stars or one star in that forum if I feel that strongly about it, because there are many others who are weighing in and it's more fair that way.

But writing a blog post about a book is something else to me.  That book I didn't like was someone's dream.  They spent hours and hours on it.  They thought about it when they were driving to the store, perhaps.  Or when they were rocking their babies to sleep.  Maybe they danced around when they got a call from an agent and cried when they first saw it in print.  This was their creative work and I don't feel comfortable spending an entire post slamming it.

So if I don't like a book-- I just don't blog about it.  I don't need to.  There's plenty of excellent books that deserve the praise and the attention and I'd rather just focus on them. 

That's my reason for writing only positive reviews.   There's no shortage of people ripping books apart all over the internet.  For me, I'll stick with my way.

Monday, February 20, 2012

MG Recommendation: POWERLESS, by Matthew Cody




As soon as I saw the cover of POWERLESS, it caught my eye.  It's perfect for the book. I actually found the book on-line first, but then saw it at our school's scholastic book fair, so I hope Mr. Cody sees a lot of sales from that!

The first thing I noticed when I started reading was, a-HA!  A PROLOGUE!  See, modern books DO still have them.   But as agents like to point out a lot, there had better be a VERY good reason for it and in this case, there is.   

 In POWERLESS, a kid named Daniel moves into a neighborhood where the kids have amazing powers…but they lose them and their memories of ever having those powers when they turn thirteen.  So the prologue shows us how that works, with the character of Michael, who begins the chapter by flying and ends up by never remembering he had ever flown.  The prologue is achingly poignant and sets the stage for us readers to really want someone to HELP those superkids!  And when we meet the Sherlock-Holmes-Loving Daniel, we know he is the guy to do it.

I really hate to pigeon-hole books as "for boys" or "for girls" because, hey, I'm a girl I enjoyed this as an adult.  And as a kid, I had a Marvel Comics subscription and would have loved this then, too.  But as a former teacher, I will say that this book would be one I'd recommend to a boy in a heartbeat, especially one who might not have caught onto the joys of reading yet.  Maybe a boy who mostly read only comics.  It's not that it's an easy reader, because it's not.  It's firmly middle grade, with some rather freaky moments near the end for that age group.  

But because this book deals with superpowers and has a very fast moving plot, it will draw in a reluctant reader and keep him engaged with a plot he finds accessible and interesting.  

But again, I think ALL readers would enjoy this book.  It's a fast read, with twists and turns along the way.  I didn't cry once, so that's nice because I've cried over too many stories lately.  And the door is definitely open to a sequel with POWERLESS.  Da-dah-DA-DUM!!

My favorite line is actually not one that affects the plot particularly.  It describes Daniel's grandmother.  But even as I was reading, I thought, "Oooh, that's a perfect description."  I salute this fabulous simile:

""These days she always moved like that, as if she were made of glass in a house full of hard edges."  Pg 93

So go get a copy and enjoy some superpower-related sleuthing!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Anna and the French Kiss, YA

I recently read the book Anna the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I was strolling by the YA section of the library and saw this one on the top of the shelf.

My first impression was that if Ms. Perkins has not been to Paris, she's got amazing research skills. I have visited Paris twice, which is not at all the same as living there, and even I found myself nodding at the accuracy of her descriptions.


Here's me on the Eiffel Tower in 1991. Eons ago. I'm at the mid-level area, because I'm afraid of heights and this was the best I could do.

I've also went to 6 different schools in my K-12 career.  I went to 3 different high schools.  I lived in Germany my last two years of high school (on an American base during the first Gulf War.)  All of these experiences made me very sympathetic with the plight Anna faces as being the new kid in her school and feeling discomfort as an American in a place not known for their love of Americans.  However, even if you did not ever have those experiences, Ms. Perkins builds her story so well that you will feel like you have.

Anna is a believable, sympathetic character with a strong voice and excellent sense of humor. The whole book was a fun romance that I enjoyed tremendously. It's not super suspenseful, yet I stayed up quite late to finish it, so hats off to you, Ms. Perkins!

If you like YA romances that are a little quirky with vivid sensory descriptions of a foreign location, you'll enjoy this one!  It's not just about her finding love, but about finding herself in a place far, far from home.

And if you ever go to Paris, make sure you take plenty of rests.  If you don't, you could be me: