Monday, January 31, 2011

Steam Punk

     I read my first "steam punk" book this week. It was Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. If you don't know what steam punk is, it's a mix of the past and future. Usually it takes place in the late 1800s or early 1900s but with technology that is futuristic. Think Wild Wild West.
     It took me a bit to get into the book, mostly because it had terminology that I just didn't know. But once I got used to it, and thanks to some great illustrations, the book got better and better as I went along. Last night about halfway through I couldn't put it down and I just finished it at lunch. I'm excited for Behemoth, which is book two that I'm hoping I can snatch up from the library this afternoon.
     Steam punk, like dystopian, probably wouldn't be my genre of choice. But with great characters (I love the girl pretending to be a boy to join the army), and an action-packed story, Leviathan hooked me. So if you want to give steam punk a try, pick this one up first. I'd definitely recommend it to my husband and nephews because it's a great boys book.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Phantom of the Opera

     I watched The Phantom of the Opera last night (the movie not the live, on-stage version). Why my obsession with musicals lately? Well I've got a CD case in my van and I usually listen to whatever I'm in the mood for. Just after christmas I decided I would listen to EVERY CD. I'm now at the part of the case that holds soundtracks. I've already listenend to Moulin Rouge, Hairspray, and Chicago. Now I'm on Phantom and Fame will be next.

    I wasn't even sure I wanted to watch the movie in the first place because I was tired and it's a long movie. I made the right decision. I haven't watched it in forever but I loved every second. If you'd have been there to witness it, you would have seen me roll my eyes at the mist, laugh at Minnie Driver's brilliant performance, cry at the end (poor Phantom), and hold the blanket up to my mouth to cover my foolish grinning. I got all giddy at certain parts. Who knows why. Clearly, I have issues. Or maybe just a great love for beautiful music. Probably both. 

     Why the reason for this post? None really. Except I'm still hearing the songs in my ears, I've got the images of the characters floating in front of my eyes, and I'm feeling it all in my soul. Sounds cheesy but it's true. Another reason: pretty pictures.
Can you believe that's Gerard Butler?!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dream Roles

    So in another life I was totally a broadway star. Seriously. It's a dream I've long given up due to the fact that 1- my voice sucks, and 2- my dancing is not up to par (at least not anymore!). But it's something I dreamed about when I was younger and watched an alarming number of movie musicals. I've even been in some musicals- West Side Story, Carousel, Guys and Dolls- although never with a starring role.
     Some of the dream roles I've wanted to play...
     I was 17 when Hercules came out. I know, I know, it's not a Broadway musical. But I just love Meg and the song she sings, "I Won't Say I'm In Love". If it was an actual play- give me the part of Meg, I would totally rock that song and the line, "do you have a name to go along with all those rippling pectorals?"

     As a teen, I wanted to be Eponine from Les Mis. I totally connected to "On My Own"- you know, dreaming of that guy who just doesn't notice you. As I've gotten older, wiser, and more cynical, I connect more with Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream". Honestly, I'd take either part.

     I didn't get introduced to Chicago until the movie version came out. I'll admit, it's a little risque. But "All That Jazz" is probably the song I've belted out the most when I'm in the car by myself. And I love to soften it up a bit and sing "Funny Honey" (I could only get the first 30 seconds of the song). Give me either part and I'd be happy.

     Again, Moulin Rouge is not a broadway musical. And playing a courtesan is not my ideal. The singing is a little high for me, but I'd have the dancing down no prob. So why Mouling Rouge? Two words: Ewan McGregor. Who could say no to singing alongside him? (Although if I'm going to go with that reasoning I'd have to add High School Musical or Hairspray for the reason of Zac Efron.) Besides, the music is just awesome.

     Phantom of the Opera is my 2nd fave musical (Les Mis takes the top spot). I could NEVER EVER play the role of Christine- my voice is so not operatic. But All I Ask of You is just so beautiful, I've dreamt of doing that duet with the man I love. (Can you imagine Jeff singing that?!) And a side note: Gerard Butler is the hottest Phantom I've ever seen.

     Growing up I watched a lot of old musicals, and there were a few roles I thought I'd be good at. 1) Ava Gardner's role in Show Boat- "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" (I found one version on playlist but I had to delete it because it annoyed me). 2) Ado Annie from Oklahoma- "I Cain't Say No" (couldn't find it on playlist). 3) Adelaide from Guys and Dolls (couldn't find any of her songs either).

Those are my dream roles. In my dreams I'm belting them out on stage to thunderous applause. Hey- it could happen. Ok, probably not.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Passive Voice

    I've been struggling lately with PASSIVE VOICE. I get the concept, but not enough for me to be able to point it out in my own writing. I've read that passive voice can be the death of any author because agents and publishers think it's lazy writing and are therefore trained to notice it. Passive voice=query into the bin. But I'm just not getting it. Can anyone give me a passive voice tutorial? Anyone?      What I do know is that the word "was" is a big indicator that you're using passive voice. Like, instead of saying, "It was cold" you should say something like, "the cold seeped into my bones and I shivered". Passive voice doesn't relate to the character, where as active voice does. The thing is, when I'm trying to trim and trim and trim some more, I don't want to get all wordy all the time. Sometimes I think it's better to get straight to the point by saying, "Lord Alric was just as charming as I imagined him to be" (straight out of my book), rather than something a 16-yr-old would never say like, "I had imagined the extent of Lord Alric's charms, and they didn't disappoint".
     I'm wondering if maybe the use of WAS doesn't necessarily make it passive voice. Or, if it's ok to use the was sometimes. When I read about how bad Passive voice is, I decided to look through the first paragraphs of three bestsellers. I counted at least 8 was's in each one. Just in their first paragraphs! So now I'm thinking that I really don't get it. Or maybe it's not so bad as websites and blogs are leading me to believe. Or maybe it is but some people just get away with it. Or maybe- and this is probably the right maybe- passive voice is one of those things that you need to watch out for just so agents/publishers don't have an excuse to toss your MS right off the bat. They see so many on a daily basis that I really shouldn't be giving them any kind of reason not to read past line one.
     Which is why I need a passive voice tutorial. I'm starting to see the benefit of all those writers who have MFA's. I'll just have to stick with my one year at university and one college writing class. Crap.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Never Give Up

     I was reading my sister-in-laws blog yesterday and she was talking about how we are the hardest on ourselves. She has a new church calling that is slightly overwhelming because it's new and something she's never done before. On her blog she said that she would feel positve about the whole thing and then seconds later she'd feel really down and think things like, I can't do this, it's not going to work out, they're going to hate me, etc. (Barb- I hope you don't mind that I'm talking about this on my blog!)
     It got me thinking, I feel that exact same way with my writing. Some days I think, my book is AWESOME! People will love it! I think Jessica is very relatable, she's funny, and she kicks butt. I think people will fall in love with her and with Alric and with their relationship and with well, eveything!
     And then I have those other days. Days where I think, my book sucks. My writing sucks. I have no skills whatsoever. Who is going to care about a stupid teen romance? It's not good enough to get noticed by agents. There are so many steps just to get published that it will NEVER happen for me.
     It's not just my writing where I get those conflicting feelings. Heck, I have them every day! Days where I think, I'm totally hot! And then days where I think, I'm such a fat cow. Days of, look what I got accomplished today! And days of, I got nothing done today.
     I think what's most common is days that go like this:

     So today I did my house cleaning, my writing, I exercised, and showered. I cooked all three meals, my kids got to school/ballet/kickboxing on time and ready, they did their homework, we listened to the scriptures.
     But there's so much I didn't do. I made Hamburger Helper and bagged salad instead of a homecooked, organic, completely-from-scratch whatever that so-and-so makes her family. I listened to the New Testament, but I didn't sit down and study and cross-reference and highlight for an hour like so-and-so does. I didn't do that puzzle, or paint, or draw, or whatever with my kids. Sure my house is clean but the floors really need to be mopped, the fridge needs to be cleaned out, and I don't even remember the last time I cleaned out my van!  I got my visiting teaching done this month but I haven't done any service. I never do geneology. I haven't read the past three Ensigns.
     I'm a terrible mother. I'm ugly and fat. I suck at writing. People don't like me.
     I'm such a failure!

     I write that in italics because those have actually been my thoughts. I've had days just like that. Days where I can't see what I accomplished, I can only see what I didn't do. Sometimes I don't have days, but probably most days I have moments. Moments of guilt. Moments of failure. Sometimes those moments drag me down and become days. Other times I can rise above those moments. I can say,
     So why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we compare ourselves to others? Why do we think others are perfect and have the perfect life when deep down we know that's just not true. No one is perfect. No one has a perfect life. Why can't we be happy with doing the best that we can?
     Here's the kicker. I think that if we weren't hard on ourselves, then we won't grow. If I say, I'm fine just the way I am, I don't need to change anything, then I'll just become stagnant. I'll never reach my full potential.
     So how do we find the balance? We have to be a little hard on ourselves so that we can become better. But if we're too hard on ourselves then we'll just get depressed, we'll feel worthless, and that DEFINITELY won't help us to become better.
     I think the point is to KEEP TRYING. NEVER GIVE UP. Maybe that sounds too simple, cliche, or even cheesy to some. But that's what we need to do. Keep trying. Do the best that we can. So at the end of each day we can say, I know I'm not a perfect mother/wife/housekeeper/writer/whatever. But I'm trying. I'm trying to be better. And I will try again tomorrow and the next day and forever. And hopefully, that's enough.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taylor Swift - Back to December

     Last night I listened to Taylor Swift's Speak Now CD to and from dance class. The car was quiet since I was the only one in it, and I really had the chance to listen to the lyrics of every song.
     I'm a huge Taylor Swift fan. She isn't the best singer in the world, but there's something about her lyrics that I really connect with. They are so honest and raw and I really get them. I feel them. I think that's probably true for most of her fans- which is why she has so many. She was smart by admitting that these songs are about certain people (although she doesn't confirm who, some are pretty easy to tell). It makes the songs more interesting, it gets us involved in her personal life and feelings.
     Like "Back to December", for example. The video was almost disappointing because I hear this song and I think of Taylor Lautner (who the song is allegedly about- hello tanned-skin!). Not that he would ever be in the video, obviously, but I can't help but see what she sings about. I can picture it. The video didn't quite give me that. But I still love the song. Another one of my favorites off that album is "Enchanted". I swear I could write a book around that song! "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me" inspired me to write a YA book in the first place. You go Taylor!
     Anyway, I hear that she's coming to Edmonton on her tour. I'd love to be able to take Jade- I think that would be a really fun mother-daughter thing to do. So if anyone hears when tickets go on sale for that show- let me know!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sorry Miss Bronte...

     A few months ago I saw Wuthering Heights (by Emily Bronte) in the store and thought I'd buy it. For one, I haven't read it since high school, and for two, the cover was just so pretty. I know that's stupid but I have a thing for book covers. I'm sure I could have bought it for like 25cents at some used bookstore, or even three dollars at chapters with a very generic (aka ugly) cover. But this one was shiny and black with a beautiful red rose on it and I just couldn't resist.
    Anyway, a few days ago I started it. I got to about chapter five when I realized... I HATE that book! Sorry Miss Bronte, but it's true. I had totally forgotten how much I dislike Wuthering Heights and all its depressing-ness. That night I warred within myself- should I read it anyway or just put it away? It's very hard for me not to finish a book I've started. I finally left it to chance. If I found time to go to the library the next day then I'd shelve Wuthering Heights for now. Maybe I'll read it in another five years or so if I feel in the mood to be totally bummed out. (Doubtful).
    The book I read instead was... FABULOUS! (said in Jim Carey's Grinch voice). So awesome that I'm going to go out and buy it (as soon as it comes out in paperback). This book was... dum da da da...

     Juliet, by Anne Fortier. So good, everyone should go out and read it.
     Here's the gist: Julie Jacobs (very similar to my own Jessica Jacobs) goes to Italy to find some treasure her mom might have left her after she died. In the process, Julie finds out that she's actually Giulietta Tolomei- a descendant of a Giulietta Tolomei that lived in 1340 and is the basis for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. What's great about it is that Fortier goes back and forth between Julie's search to understand everything (sort of like a clue hunt) and Romeo and Giulietta's story from 1340.
     You might think, well I already know the story of Romeo and Juliet so- boring! But it's not the same story at all. And what I found interesting was that even though I know how Romeo and Juliet turns out (aka- tragedy), there was still this part of me that was wishing it would turn out differently.
     Julie's story is equally fascinating, funny, and of course- romantic. She wouldn't be Giulietta without her own Romeo. My only pet peeve is this: there is one certain character (who will remain nameless) that I just didn't get. I had this initial impression of him/her but later on it was like this character was a whole different person. Maybe that's what Fortier was trying to do- but it made the character unbelievable to me.
    Anyway, it was an awesome book that should be made into a movie PRONTO. Go and get it and read it-NOW. I command you. Meanwhile, I just might reread Romeo and Juliet- that's one depressing book that I actually like.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Death by Query

Death by Query #1

A literary agent (name withheld) was found in his office yesterday laying on the floor, dead. He was surrounded by stacks of query letters, first chapters, and SASE's. On his computer were hundreds of unanswered emails all with the same subject title: QUERY. Cause of death: unknown. However experts believe that reading thousands of really bad query letters every week might have caused said agent's heart to give out. Literary agents everywhere are taking extra vitamins and hiring college dropouts to handle their endless piles of queries so that they may avoid this kind of situation.

Death by Query #2  

Aspiring author M. Stanford was found in her home last night, slumped over her computer, her cheeks pressed into the keyboard, dead. Cause of death: unknown. However, evidence suggests something sinister. Note papers covered the desk with the same sentence written on each but in many different ways. Her computer screen showed a very jumbled query letter- repeated paragraphs written in different styles but conveying the same theme. Experts argree that possible cause of death was repeated attempts to write the perfect query letter. Her family, and her novel, are the only survivors of this tragic, and possibly malicious, death.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brown and Niffenegger

     I've read two books lately- Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol" and Audrey Niffenegger's "Her Fearful Symmetry". When I read books now, I really try hard to read from an author's perspective- looking for things like, what makes this book good? Why am I interested?

    Those two books I just read are so different. Dan Brown is great because he just has so much interesting and exciting stuff going on. His pacing is perfect, his timing intruiging, and he's got great one-liners. Sometimes I disagree with what he has to say, but since it's just a novel, I don't feel the need to get my panties in a twist over it.
     Audrey Niffenegger is so different. I loved "The Time Traveller'sWife". It was heart-wrenchingly sad and for some reason I like stories like that. They resonate with me. "Her Fearful Symmetry" was different. It started slow, and yet I kept reading. I wondered why. What was making me flip the pages into the late hours of the night? The entire first part of the book was basically back story- something that an author is NEVER supposed to do. And yet it worked. I wasn't bored. I didn't find excuses to do anything other than read. So why did I like it? Why was it good?

     I think the main thing is her characters. They are always very well done. You care about them, you identify with them, even when they are almost un-identifiable. Like Henry the time-traveller. Or Claire- his wife. Or in this book, the twins- Julia and Valentina. And Martin- their OCD neighbour. I've obviously never been a twin. And even though I've joked that I have OCD before (something I will never do again after reading that book), I don't even close to suffering from that disorder. But yet I felt the characters, I found them interesting and complex in their differences from me, and I understood them. That is something for sure.
    I have to say I was a little disappoinetd wth the ending. Although I could see what was coming with Valentina, I still wasn't happy with it. Maybe because in this case I wanted this happy ending and I didn't get it. Sure, things were wrapped up mostly (I'm still wondering about Robert), but I was left wanting. And thinking. And that in itself shows that she's a good author. That she captured me and led me into her world and I'm not quite ready to leave it, even though I'm done the book.
     Anyway, I'm left feeling... ? I not only finished that book today but I finished another edit on my own. So now I feel sort of like I'm missing something, sort of hopeful and sad at the same time, and ready to head to the library for something new to read so I can get lost in another world.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Query Complaining

     Can I take a sec to complain about the whole querying process? Of course I can- this is MY blog!
     Since I have some time before I start querying again, and I'm well into re-editing, I've decided to use any extra waiting time to really research the agents I'm looking to query. Not that I didn't do that before- because I did. I read articles about them, read books they represent, even sometimes books they've written themselves. But here's the problem. Or problemS...
     First of all, how do you come across in your query that you did your research without sounding like a brown-noser, or worse- stalker. Or do you mention nothing about it all, instead assuming that since you researched and KNOW that said agent is looking for your type of book, they will automatically understand that you did your research.
     That sentence made no sense. Maybe I need to get back to writing.
     Anyway, and then... sometimes there's really nothing you can find about said agent. Like, ok, they represent this book or that book, but if yours is exactly like it (or very similar) they won't want to represent you because it's too close to the client they already have. Or if yours is different, then they're going to think to themselves, this person did not do their research and therefore their query is going straight to the bin.
     Or you read that they're looking for a compelling voice and good-storytelling. Well duh. What author who sends their book out doesn't believe that about their own book?
     And then there's the whole issue of comparing. I have read that you NEVER compare your book to a bestseller. But should you compare it to a book no one but the agent has heard of? And then what do you say? No matter what you say, you're going to come across as either pretentious/egotistical or too humble/ unconfident. Or maybe that's just me.
     And then of course, there's the simple fact that I've done TONS of research about querying and come up with one incontrovertible truth: there is NO ONE RIGHT WAY to query. Some agents want to be flattered. Others want authors to get straight to the point. Some like title and word count first off, others don't care if it's at the end of the letter. Where one query might work for one agent- that same query might get totally rejected by another. And that's even after you've followed the basic query format. ARGH!
     And don't even get me started on the fact that most agents don't read the queries at all...

     Ok, I'm done complaining. That was the despair before the action. Venting my thoughts and worries before I actually get involved in the querying process once again. Because once I do, I won't be worried about all that. I'll just be worried about making sure my query is the best-written, best-researched query letter it can be.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


     You know, I never actually make a list of New Year's Resolutions. They almost seem like a taboo to me- you officially make a resolution, you won't keep it. But I decided to hang it all and make a list, on record, and then in  few months or at the end of the year I can see how good I've done.

     1. Spend more time with my kids. I'm already NOT doing this by posting on my blog. But I think this is my most important resolution, and by the hardest for me. Not that I don't spend all day every day with them because believe me, I do. But I hardly PLAY with them. I need to do that more.

     2. Write everyday. And by write I mean- write, edit, research, rewrite, etc. Everything to do with my writing, I need to do a bit everyday. Which I'm actually pretty good at already but I did slack off for a couple months there.

     3. Exercise and eat well. I did really well keeping points and everything for a while there but for some reason I'm reluctant to go back to that. Somehow I would like to find a balance where I'm not gorging myself (like I tend to do on cheat days and then I feel sick) but where i'm not just eating salads either. Not that I did that before. I just need to find a balance of healthy eating and the occasional treat. (Good luck with that Melanie).

     4. Listen to the New Testament with my kids. As soon as I've downloaded it onto my iPod, I've got that one in the bag.

     5. Be better at the church basics- visiting teaching, tithing, praying... I'm a work in progress, what can I say...

     So there it is. I'm not going to say, we'll see how I do, because I think that's just setting me up for failure. I WILL do them. I WON'T fail.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

      Welcome 2011. What will you bring? Leaving the scary realm of thirty-year-old-dom, and entering the even scarier, one year closer to forty, thirty-one. Kids turning 4, 2, 6 and then 8. A 10-year wedding anniversary and hopefully a vacation to somewhere tropical for the first time in that ten year marriage.
     Those are givens. Gonna happen whether I like it or not.
     What will happen that I won't be expecting? What will surprise me in a fatastic way? What will sadden me? I can't help but wonder what's coming in 2011. I can't help but look ahead. It's almost a bad habit because sometimes I'm so focused on what's coming next that I totally miss what's happening now.
     This year is going to be a good one. I'm going to declare it to be so. I know it will have hard times, sad moments, struggles. But I also know it will have laughter, dancing, big smiles and great joy. Because that's just the way life is.
     So bring it 2011. I'm ready for you.