Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Flops and Victories: More of the SCWW Experience

Saturday morning, I spilled coffee all over the breakfast table and added a beautiful stain border to Craig Faris's freebee signup sheet. I learned that it's best to remove my swinging purse from my shoulder BEFORE I lean across my coffee. Everyone else at the table agreed this was a valuable lesson, except Craig, who, being a man not from San Francisco, does not carry a purse.

Patti Callahan Henry was the keynote, and you wouldn't believe how approachable she is! I hope I'm always able to conduct myself with that kind of enthusiasm and outright bubbliness, when I'm a published author.
My mom, myself with derpface, and Patti.

I finally met agent Sorche Fairbank, after a couple of years of missing her throughout the conference. Last year and this year, I'd heard people talk about her critiques with glowing praise. Two different writers spoke of her in hushed voices, as if she were a secret. I informed her of this somewhat mystical reputation.

As for my personal victories, Sunrise is back in action. I pitched, and the the stronger chances held true. Yay for full manuscript requests. I was much less nervous than last year. I had overprepared and built the pitches up in my head as these monumental moments. And spending some time at Random House probably developed my comfort level and confidence.

Harry Potter references make great ice breakers. In certain scenarios, so do Fifty Shades innuendoes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Follow Friday: The South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference 2012

I love this conference, and this is my first year as a volunteer. A few things made today exciting, all of them centered around people worth following!

I had dinner with the lovely Kim Boykin and her agent Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. We discussed the intense impact of the Fifty Shades phenomenon; the industry now looks at erotica and self-published books with a more open mind. I forgot to ask Kevan about her client Katie McGarry and the story behind her book Pushing the Limits. I couldn't put that one down. I truly need to blog about it.

Denise Roy's Class An Insider's Guide on How to Get Published hit all of the highest and lowest notes of the industry. Getting a book published is all about finding other people who will get excited about it - agent, editors, readers. She emphatically recommended The Merchants of Culture by John B. Thompson.

The Petigru Review literary journal was revealed, and I found out that my professor James Barilla and two MFA students I know were judges. Congratulations to Alexis Stratton and Brandi Ballard! Not to mention all of the journal's writers and award winners!

This is the view from my room. U jelly?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Storytelling of Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

I write this with a bias toward the first half of the book, which frames this apocalyptic story in a wilderness survival story, a hiking endeavor that’s tense and harrowing even before the electromagnetic “zap” fries all watches, phones, pacemakers. I’m a fan of wilderness survival stories. Growing up, I loved reading The Cay, My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was my first Stephen King (and I’d bet money Ms. Bick has read it). 

Why set a zombiepocalypse story in the wilderness? Wouldn’t a city have more advantages: the contrast between the advanced civilization of city life gone to ruins, masses of people who can run about and devour and advance shock factor, Interstate crashes, etc.

From the wilderness, “the apocalypse” emerges more quietly and spookily. (Some slight spoilers ahead!) At first, Alex thinks the zap happened very locally, in a place with few people: The damage is horrifying, but not cataclysmic. From that vantage, the damage broadens like a cancer: From the mountain, to the mountain and the valley. From the mountain and the valley, to an 80-square-mile segment of mountainous Michigan. From the 80 square miles, to all of Michigan. From Michigan to half the United States.

The wilderness characterizes the horrifying extent of the zap’s power like no other setting possibly could: It is not a dropped bomb with a radius of radiation, or a virus to which one could be miraculously immune. It is not escapable. Even 25 miles out from the nearest ranger tower, it kills and infects.

That said, I've got just one more comment on Ashes' storytelling: I’ve heard numerous writers comment that smell is an underutilized and neglected sense in our writing. Naming how a place smells can bring it to life for a reader more than its colors ever could. Bick maximizes the olfactory, and I lahhv it. Exploit that competition’s weakness!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from Karsten Knight's Wildefire

The story of Polynesian volcano goddess Ashline Wilde is sublime and sublimely underrated.

I've found myself coming back to it again and again. Here are some of the things I admire it for.

3. Humor. I can never forgive character flaw so easily as when it's delivered in a funny way. Got snark? "Do you two need to be alone? I'm suffocating on testosterone."

Got a blind girl who makes everybody uncomfortable? She should point out the window and say, "Look, a moose!" then crack up.

2. Wildefire condenses its huge scope & maintains a point-of-view character by using Ashline's visions. The story crosses time and continents, but it never leaves Ashline Wilde's perspective. Through visions, she understands the backstories of her friends and distant dangers heading her way.

1. Knight draws upon a vast number of mythologies, and it creates a sense of the epic in story with relatively narrow scope. To be technical about it, I mean, holy crap. We rediscover the Polynesian stories of Pele, the legends of the Hopi Native Americans and Shintoism, Zulu and Norse gods, Egyptian Isis. Greek mythology's sirens and blind prophets converge with Christianity as a little girl sings hymns about Immanuel. These dominate plot and inform characters, but little references find their ways in all over the story:

"Hello, Pandora's box," when the power goes out.

"'Colt Halliday?' she repeated, but ignored his outstretched hand. 'Sweet name. Isn't there a stagecoach somewhere you should be robbing?'"

In a note:

Sleeping Beauty,
We knocked for several minutes.... But you did not wake. We leave you now; however, please follow the marshmallow trail to Turtle Rock in the woods when you wake. 
J, D, and the Seven Dwarves

And of course, in reference to the emergence of more recent religious mythology:

"This is kind of like a really shitty version of The Breakfast Club, huh?"

Friday, September 21, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from The Unchained Tour

Where to even begin? The Unchained Tour was off the - Fine, I won't go there. It blew my mind. How's that?

Stalker shot of the Unchained bus
The Unchained Tour seeks to promote "the art of the raconteur - the telling of unscripted, personal, porch-style stories" with some musical setting.

Rachel Kate and Joel Hamilton

Unscripted but well-practiced, the stories were gripping.

Every storyteller - Dawn Fraser, Peter Aguero, Neil Gaiman, and Edgar Oliver - made fun of himself or herself: the ways they were in the past or even at the present moment.

Edgar Oliver
Every story centered upon a critical moment in their lives. None of them were frivolous anecdotes. They told of almost dropping out of high school and college, the meetings of spouses, and most important of all, animal rescues.

All of them kept their eyes focused toward the back of the room, with occasional sweeps across the crowd. The whole time Neil spoke, he looked like he was about to cry.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling Reading Svetlana Chmakova's Nightschool

Nightschool is an American-published manga by Russian-Canadian mangaka Svetlana Chmakova, most famous for Dramacon. 

A normal school by day, The Nightschool teaches vampires, weirns, mermaids, etc. The coarse, homeschooled Alex Treveney tries to track down her sister, Sarah, a teacher at the Nightschool. She also has a slight tendency to black out and leave slow, brutal death in her wake. 

Across the four books, I had fun picking apart some of Chmakova's storytelling tricks.

6. Delving into different types of pessimism and optimism is a fun way to develop characters/contrasts. The cheerful Sarah Treveney is pessimistic about the ball-busting Mrs. Hatcher, who in turn offers her optimistic support. Instant synchronized character dynamism!

5. The storytelling emphasizes slow moments. On pages 154-155 of volume 1, for example, back-to-back panels are almost identical, showing very gradual change. A door, a portal, slowly closes. If the door were "the clock" of the story and we had a protagonist racing through it like Indiana Jones, it would build suspense. But this slow-motion-ization serves a different purpose. It creates a sense of finality. It clues you in and braces you: The person who has gone through the door will not come back.

4. I like how to book handles cursing. It's @#*%ing good at it. I wish this kind of censorship were acceptable in YA formats. It's not an entirely distracting compromise. It allows for the maintenance of a little realism.

3. Magic always has a recognizable relationship to technology. A street gang fights with a combination of pistols, crossbows, and poison. The process of tracking spells is tantamount to hacking computer systems. Magical pills stabilize psychological dysfunction in Seers. Astrals are like iPhones combined with pets. They provide passcoded hiding places for files, remind you of the time, sound security alerts, and beg for treats.

2. The story asks, and sometimes even answers, good questions about death. What is the difference between death and existence? Nightschool answers, Memory and evidence of life. What is memory's relationship to death? Without memory, death achieves something greater than itself. The dead becomes nonexistent. And finally, how is a slow death both crueler and kinder to loved ones? At the story's turning point, most characters have braced themselves for the death of their friends - but one cannot stand for it and seeks revenge. Unanswerable questions always seem to be the strongest, don't they.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling Watching Breaking Bad: Episode 1, Pilot

A quiet, scientific high school teacher is Breaking Bad and cooking up meth. He has cancer, and he wants to leave his family with financial support. He’s also kinda vibing on the thrills of the dangers of the meth world. In his underwear.

In the first episode, I noticed three key storytelling tricks. 

No scene is too dark for comic relief. Committing suicide before the cops reach you? Lose your pants. Just find out you had cancer? Shock should make you underreact so profoundly it’s funny. 

Characters’ perspectives lie in their reactions. Did tons of gore just fall through your ceiling? You should be a smartass about it. Understatement is powerful In so many scenes, what isn’t said is more powerful than what is. 

There are unconventional ways to raise the stakes. Most thriller writers refuse to tie their protagonists to families, but this show sure makes it work. Walt doesn’t just have a wife and child - he has a pregnant wife and a disabled child. (Dexter also maximizes this intensity.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

We already know, from the Demon's Lexicon books, that Sarah Rees Brennan can write a fantasy. Here she comes with something a little more contemporary, with some downright poetic paranormal tilting.

Kami Glass understands her destiny. She's going to be a highly successful investigative reporter, starting in her British nowheresville hometown. As long as she can keep her own secret, her imaginary telepathic American boyfriend.

This story twists every adolescent girl's wish fulfillment fantasy - well, I think most of us keep an imaginary ideal boy in our heads for lonely days - into a relationship that vacillates between intimate hope and intimate hate.

Don't let the "Gothic" label frighten you - Sure, the story has scary moments, but more often, it's hilarious. Kami is an anime-character brand of enthusiastic with a disorientingly blunt brand of wit.

What I learned: How to write something unforgettable.

3. Humor always helps, especially in the form of understated snark.

"Show me to my napping sofa."

"My current verdict would be: Crazy eyes. Nice ass."
"I think I want that on my tombstone," Kami said.

"Are you going out on a date?" Dad asked tragically. "Wearing that? Wouldn't you fancy a shapeless cardigan instead? You rock a shapeless cardigan, honey."

Several times, I was giggling so hard I couldn't read, and I had to put the book down until I stopped. I don't forget books like that. They're often the ones I want to share with friends the most.

2. Stunning cross-cultural magical imagery. An electric blue heron standing flamingo-style against the night. Fragmented glass hanging in the air, getting caught in the enemy's hair. Brennan draws Japanese legends into Western lore. I love combinations like this, and I'm not alone in it. (Tangent time: Charles de Lint is the master of this technique, I think, with his combos of Celtic lore and Native American legend.)

1. Magical realism that builds up slowly, through contemporary scenes. The first undeniably real bit of magic occurs around page 50. It builds to a crescendo across the next 190 pages. That's almost 250 pages of chipping away at rocks that look like pieces of ruby, maybe, a little, if they're not just quartz. Then we hit the vein. Bedazzlement tends to be pretty unforgettable, too.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling Reading Venom by Fiona Paul

I'm forcing myself to write this review despite the impulse to look up anything else Fiona Paul has written. I wasn't planning to read Venom until October, but I took a peek at the first page and then I couldn't stop.

Cass's childhood friend has passed away. Grieving and restless, she visits her friend's crypt that night to find the door ajar - Liviana's body is gone, replaced with the bloody corpse of different girl. Also skulking in the graveyard is a lewd young painter with blue eyes and a crooked smile. Well, here we go.

I'd like to present the storytelling elements that seem worthy of dissecting (whipping out a scalpel): 

4. The horror, the horror, is comprised of the following:
  • Sound. Sound, sound, sound. Onomatopoeias creep me out. Examples to come. 
  • Falco's fascination for anatomy, and the quotations from the Book of the Eternal Rose between chapters, kind of develop creepy empathy for a Ripper-style murderer.
  • The constant possibility Cass is lusting after the murderer. 
  • The Venetian setting. A sinking city whose people struggle to communicate and even move because the streets ARE FREAKIN' WATER. Ahem. I like Venice.
  • The sheer number of suspects: Almost every single man in the plot draws suspicion. 

3. I like to think cliches are cliches for a reason. They work. It's just, you know, well - we get sick of recognizing them. They mark predictability. Here are some cliche's that Fiona Paul steered off the driven path:
  • The story starts with a funeral - the funeral at which she meets said blue-eyed artiste. 
  • The story ends with a wedding - including a completely unwilling type of "wedding night."
  • Falco does have blue eyes and a crooked smile. He's a Jack Dawson-like artist. But by the time I realized this, I didn't care. I think this might have to do with his tendency to vacillate between blush-inducing flirtation and graveyard-haunting, scalpel-toting, blood-streaked creepertude. He somehow always manages to remain sexy, even when you think he's the killer: At points, I almost found myself hoping Cass had indeed fallen for a Venetian Ripper. 

2. The writing is cinematic. Fiona Paul writes with sentence structures that clue you into the way she'd shoot this as a movie. Frame placements of many images, along with the the camera's angles and movement, are implicit. Examples to come. 

1. Oh, how we crave strong female characters these days. On the first page, Cass bonds with a friend over criticism of a fearmongering priest with eyes like volcanic glass. Instantly, the simmering potential for revolution in this character tugged at me. There's one scene I don't think I'll forget. Cass rows a gondola - something she doesn't think another Venetian woman has ever done before - and laughs with the freedom of it. In her excitement, she removes the stifling stays she's been complaining about since page one, and throws them to the canal. 

She has an Antigone-like loyalty to her dead friend and longs for her to rest in peace - partially because her own parents died abroad and their bodies were never found. And like every great dynamic character, by the end, she does something she never, ever would have done in the story's beginning. 

Once the book comes out, I'll close this review with the priest's line in the first chapter - the line from which the title comes. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What I Learned about Storytelling From Third Grade Angels by Jerry Spinelli

I got this signed ARC at BEA. I grew up on Stargirl and Maniac Magee, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to meet Spinelli himself. And so this is how a 21-year-old college senior ended up reading Third Grade Angels for fun.

(The art inside the book is precious. The expressions of the
characters and facial shapes are manga-like. Love! But I don't think
this style transitions to color well. Doesn't Suds look kinda creepy?)
This is the adorable story of obsessive perfectionist George "Suds" Morton and his quest to be the first kid in his class to receive the teacher's coveted award: a cardboard halo. But what does perfection become in the face of selflessness?

Reading this was a delightful 45 minutes. For anyone remotely interested in Spinelli's writing or in the third grade paradigm - parents, teachers, friends - Third Grade Angels cannot possibly be a waste of time.

As for what I discovered of storytelling:

2. Characters' names say a lot about them and their relationships. Labels change when characters are within the classroom & beyond it. Suds' little sister Zippernose is the best example. Even as her relationship with her improves, we don't learn her real name.

1. An organic, complex, unusual character is always refreshing. Even going back through some of my old elementary school books, I could find no protagonist quite like the neurotic Suds - at least not one who was male.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

Melissa Marr conquered the YA market with the Wicked Lovely series, and she’ll be expanding her horizons on Tuesday, September 4th when Carnival of Souls hits stores. 

The first few things that happen in this novel are:

A demon woman sacrifices everything to a witch in the human world, for help protecting her child. 

Another, Aya, matches against her ex-fiancee in battle, to further her aspiration to make a statement about women's equality and their right not to be impregnated against their wills.

A teenage girl of human sensibilities, the protected baby demon of the mother above, whines about how her father won't let her date. 

An odd juxtaposition, since strong women dominate this story, especially Aya. Which leads us to what I've learned about storytelling. 

1. Aya does not steal the show - she demands it and earns it. She comes off the page and grabs you by the throat, but you know it's just a threat. You know that if she were going to kill you, she'd make it rapid, brilliant, bloody. I'm not sure I've ever had the pleasure of fearing, and falling for, such a strong female character. Most plotters characterize though everyday interaction. They often build toward the most difficult decision that character will ever have to make. Marr, however, starts Aya off with this choice. Brutal. 

"Aya touched her fingertips to the claws, talons, and teeth she wore like pearls."

2. The threads of the storylines braid in fascinating patterns, then twist into a strong rope toward the end. Some intersections are predictable, others squee-inducing. In a land of three races - humans in one world, demons in another, witches in between - every dynamic develops through these intertwining threads. Much in the captivating tradition of Harry Potter, the characters' feelings shine against hateful societal backdrops - "a prolonged argument for tolerance." About fifty pages from the end, the humans' and demons' value systems reflected in the characters' conflicts started to feel real in a reality-transcending way. This is the kind of cultural conflict I'd expect to study in a cultural course at school, but delightfully accessible via story.

3. Also like J. K., Marr spoon-feeds the reader nothing. Inference, context clues, detail selections learn you the world before you've known it.

"Hi parents had abandoned him, so he survived as a street scab, too low to even have a caste. Most such demons died; Kaleb hadn't. He'd fought, killed, and endured until he had the strength and power to earn respect on the streets." The social stratification system of the daimon world quickly unveils through character experience.

The intro line: "The man - witch - who'd summoned Selah was nothing like what she'd expected. In truth, he looked no different than many daimons she'd met..." We get hints about the dynamics of all three races in line one: Human, witch, daimon. Boom.

4. Marr writes action with sentence structure that reflects the content; she illuminates the dynamics of fights so clearly, movies would have to resort to shifting-camera slow-mo (techinical terminology here, yo) to create the same effect. 

"She let the momentum of his action spin her to face him - and then she shot him. She only got off one shot, but it was a good shot. The bullet pierced his chest, and at such close range, the splatter was enough to make her feel sick."

Line one: Not a word wasted or an action out-of-order. A hyphen marks Mallory's transition from passive to active initiative.
Line two: Slowdown, but we can see where the bullet - and the fight - are heading.
Line three: The bullet completes its path and sends its bloody and emotional ripples.

A seemingly effortless capture of a rapid-fire moment:

"He moved so quickly that the clatter of the revolver hitting the asphalt was simultaneous with a cuff to her head."

5. She uses the "every teenage girl ever" trope in a different way. Mallory appears to be your run-of-the-mill Bellarific protagonist:  Innocent to violence and sexuality, clumsy but lacking in any strong passion or dangerous character flaw, passive to the advances of boys as well as to the rules of her overprotective father, obsessing about ways to get her cake and eat it and not hurt anybody about it. 

But she evolves as the story goes on. The real Mal shines through cracks in the trope. After all, the trope almost perfectly matches the mold which her father has forced her into for her protection. 

If that's too spoilerific, I apologize. It's just fascinating.

What are we doing to our characters when we tropify them? What passions are we suppressing? What flaws are we overlooking, which we could help them overcome? What fearfully beautiful, Aya-like demon are we suppressing?

I stood in my longest line at BEA to get this ARC, and I'm happy I did. I even got a stalker shot of Ms. Marr, see?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from My Little Dashie

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has become something of a phenomenon. A story intended for little girls now fascinates all age groups and genders. Unicorn prodigy Twilight Sparkle doesn’t understand the value of making friends, so her teacher, Princess Celestia, instructs her to travel to Ponyville. Here she meets the spastic and arguably schizophrenic Pinkie Pie; the mumbling pegasus Fluttershy; the fabulous fashionista unicorn Rarity; the farm-girl apple bucker Applejack; and the tomboy pegasus Rainbow Dash. 

Since last spring, a fan-written story concerning rainbow dash that has become absurdly popular. Almost all members of the culture know of My Little Dashie by RobCakeran53 on Deviantart. In fact, the My Little Brony faction of Memebase has produced several My Little Dashie memes. 

In the story, a young man struggles through a depressingly empty life in a washed-up city, until the day he discovers an infant pegasus in a cardboard box in the street: Rainbow Dash, straight out of the TV show. 

Our hero is so wimpy he’s almost laughable, the plot is holey, and the writing is simplistic and grammatically unsavory. However, it's this simplicity that makes it work. The writing has the feel of a young man pouring his heart out. It is simple, honest, intimate. 

Yet questions remain, and many fans are skeptical. After all, the story's Rainbow Dash does not have the pushy spunk of the flawed TV show character. 

Why is this fanfiction piece so popular? I’m not claiming to know the cultural reasons behind it, but I’d like to unpack some of the storytelling. 

4. Despite the honest tone, some lines are brilliantly manipulative. 

"'Oh...' The realization strikes that she has no clue what is going on, where she is, who I am, or anything else. She's beyond the word 'lost': she is misplaced."

"I know the meme gets old, but I must say it: my heart exploded again."

3. It makes the best of tantalizing bits of fandom. The author surprises us with the bright spots of color that wade in from the pony world, and I think maintaining this surprise - even though it’s a fanfiction - is part of its delight. These are the moments when I found myself smiling.  (He says of one character, “Better yet, the rumors on the internet were true; her mane did smell like cotton candy.”)

2. Also for fans - this story emphasizes two elements the show rarely utilizes: the girls' relationships with male figures, and their relationships with their parents. This is refreshing for fans. If Rainbow Dash had a strong relationship with a father figure, this would make so much sense. She's the most boyish of them all. This story maximizes that thematic gap. 

1. The fifteen-year span. The writer avoids lulls by picking out only certain memoir-like episodes from the many years. If it weren't for this long time period and the father-daughter relationship that develops because of it, this story would not have its impact. It would not overcome the almost-creepy fascination the character has for the pony. 

What do you think? Is there even more to this minor Internet phenomenon? 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling from The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

I read this book in one sitting, and it was a complete delight. I say this as a 21-year-old college senior unaccustomed to reading Middle Grade. It releases September 4, 2012. 

The twelve-year-old, neurotic Naomi has a violent past and a childlike perspective, but a refreshingly sophisticated voice. Her sarcasm and levelheadedness contrast her friend Lizzie Scatterdinghead’s innocent, tactful chatterboxing in one of the best foils I’ve ever witnessed.

When a little Irishman falls out of a tree and knocks her over, he becomes her first crush. Duh dun SHHH. 

As the opening chapters suggest - Naomi and Lizzie refer to Finn as “a body” and as “it” - he’s mysterious enough to make you wonder, for some time, whether he’s paranormal.  Meanwhile, a couple of women casually plot “murders” across the ocean, and many dots link Naomi’s and Lizzie’s little country town of Blackbird Tree, and the dots demand explanation. 

What I learned about storytelling: I’ve got a countdown this time. 

3. Interactive character description is incredibly vivid. When the book comes out, I will be copying a passage about Joe from chapter 7. 

2. I remember this trick from Walk Two Moons. Creech adds some distance to the love stories woven into these middle grade books, maybe to tone down the romance for younger kids, maybe to add poignance and mystery, maybe both. The most intimate scene in the book is told in two parts, with a brief intermission, in past perfect tense.  

1. There’s a saying about writing: “Don’t leave the gun on the mantle.” If a character puts a gun above the fireplace, that gun better fire before the story’s over. Sharon Creech doesn’t just fire the gun. She takes every single item on the mantle and turns it into a weapon. If a bad guy broke into her proverbial plotting house, he’d get shot with all the guns, stabbed with all the candles, have his ribs broken by a giant clock, his head bashed in by books. In The Great Unexpected, Creech ties together threads that you’d forgotten about, and it’s as delightful as golden thread spun from straw. 

To break it down a little more: I think the motifs and repeating imagery of this book create a narrow world. Crows, trees, wrinkles, dogs, Finns, and more crows. It’s comfortable, then it’s almost annoying until it gets comforting again - and then the world expands, and it’s great and unexpected. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: Review


Premise: On the day Hadley has been dreading for months - nay, years - circumstances leader her to meet a certain gorgeous Brit. The title is somewhat misleading. A story that's actually about the statistical probability of love at first sight would probably be much more situational than this one is. Trust me, you want this spoiler: Hadley does not fall in love at first sight. If you're looking for a study of that moment itself, this isn't the book for you.

Plot & Characters: They're indistinguishable from each other. Yes!!!

This book is totally character driven. By the end of the story, characters have done things they would never have done at its beginning. The transition is convincing and flawless. About halfway through the novel, the main character has a delicious burst of initiative.

Main Character: Hadley is a bitter, self-involved brat who KNOWS how to notice and commune with the people around her, but just doesn't WANT to. Her transformation is compelling.

Love interest: Oliver is a mysterious charmer with emphasis on the mystery. He's a fascinating insta-crush full of stereotypical British snark and less stereotypical emotional defensiveness. Much of the mystery, however, goes unsolved. Hence, the love story part of this becomes shallow.

The ending involves some ambiguity in a way that invites re-reading and sleuth work. Check plus.

Alert: Vague spoilers that will likely just make you want to read this.

What I learned about storytelling: Perhaps the strongest part of the story is halfway through when Hadley pieces together the earth-shattering reveal about Oliver's travels. This reveal happened on so many levels. Hadley realizes Oliver is in pain; how it compares to her own pain; and what she can do about it. Meanwhile the reader realizes both characters' potentials for depth and change.

Gorgeously done.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

V. 1 of Arisa by Natsume Andou: Manga Review

It's been a while since I've discovered a new shoujo manga (that's actually been released in America) I could not put down. In fact, there really hasn't been one since Dengeki Daisy. But simply reading the premise of this gave me chills. 


Estranged high-school twins Arisa and Tsubasa are reunited after years of secret communication through letters - and Arisa promptly attempts suicide. In an effort to figure out why, Tsubasa disguises herself as her twin and attends Arisa's high school. The reason has to do with an online personality called "The King" and his/her relationship to Arisa's class. But will Arisa's secrets destroy Tsubasa's life, too?


Analyzing and re-analyzing every personality for clues as to the King's identity - and Arisa's suicide attempt - makes this manga somewhat character-driven and extremely compelling. Of course, some coincidences are a little too perfectly incidental. To Ando's great credit, not all of Arisa's classmates fall for Tsubasa's Clark Kent-ism of her sister. They notice the differences in their personality and express different levels of concern.


The art is reminiscent of Yuu Watase's and rather typically shoujou. Big eyes for crying, detailed hair and outfits. Some proportions and angles are a little awkward. Natusme Ando is, however, yet another manga artist who has mastered the creepy smile. Delicious. :D

Ando plays with the page panelling in ways I haven't seen before. For example: Before Arisa's suicide attempt, several pages corner with a snippet of a folded note - part of her reason for jumping. The reader doesn't see the full note until she has gone over. Beautiful.


Because all peripheral characters are suspects who could be the King, even those who are flat at first develop new dimensions - especially once the class's crowd psychology hits its frequent peaks.

Tsubasa herself struggles with her identity as she constantly compares herself to her sister and redefines her relationship to her sister. Her dark side could get deeper, but she's no Mary Sue.

The cast includes:

  • Tsubasa - Too spunky/punky to get a boyfriend

  • Arisa - Too beautiful and popular to be considered anything less than perfect and happy

  • Takeru - An adorable "best friend" type, very committed to Tsubasa

  • Mariko - Arisa's cutesy, innocent best friend

  • Midori - Arisa's prestigious, nonchalant boyfriend

And a whole class full of suspects!

Playlist suggestions

  • For something cheesy - Happy Go Lucky by Steps

  • For something dramatic - Much Like Falling by Flyleaf

  • See Who I Am by Within Temptation

  • The Leaper by Deas Vail

  • All We Are by One Republic

There has to be a good song out there to express Arisa's loving desire to figure her sister out. I'll update when I find it. :)

What I learned about storytelling: Don't underestimate double trouble. It can be hokey sometimes, sure, but there are always going to be new ways that it can actually tie into themes of identity and belonging. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two Southern Gingers: Coming to a Theater Near You!

I am happy to announce a separate blog which shall motivate and inspire me to update this one more often. Two Southern Gingers in the Big City is the internship blog I'm writing with Ashley Poston.

In our supreme humility, we have mapped out all the bizarre things that would have to happen for this blog to turn into a movie.

  • We would have to get lost in the subway system and wind up somewhere bizarre and/or dangerous and perhaps have someone come to our rescue.

  • We could take a taxi to the wrong location and walk home dramatically in the rain.

  • One of us, and one of us alone, could get a book deal, leaving the other out in the cold.

  • The other (Ashley) could fall in love, creating balance once again.

  • The one who fell in love could fall for a fellow Random House intern, or an intern with a competing house, or a model.

  • My fiance could show up and surprise me. In Central Park.

  • Lost of other conflict-driven things we'd rather not speak of.

Let me know if you can think of any more! Here's a picture of us failing to hail a cab.

What I learned about storytelling: Making things out to be cinematic is funnn.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Random House Internship

Hello blogosphere! I do not obtrude upon thy orbits with my obtrusive gravitation nearly enough.

I've landed an internship with Random House this summer. This is so huge to me, I never would have dreamed of it. I never would have imagined I'd have the resources.

I got the chance to send in my resume t through a personal connection.
I got the interview through the strength of my resume.
I got the job through the interview. I actually interviewed on my birthday, so I was just determined to have fun. I did - and I suppose my new supervisor did, too.

I'll be working in the Publisher Services side of Random House which translates, edits, markets, and distributes for Kodansha Comics. This was previously Del Rey Manga. They've got Negima, Ghost in the Shell, Fairy Tail - and the Sailor Moon re-release! Agh!!!

I hope to be blogging about this A LOT in the days to come.

<3 File this under: Life is Beautiful.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


First of all, I am excited to own a signed copy of this even though I've seen signed copies in every bookstore I've been in all month - everywhere from Fort Mill, SC to Jacksonville, NC. I know there was some confusion and people received copies of the books before its release date, so I think he might have taken advantage of the accident.

These characters were incredibly tangible. John Green's characters always are, though he can recycle them a bit. Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, for example, have extremely similar dynamics between protagonist, love interest, and best friend.

Like with Looking for Alaska, this is not a book that affords you the luxury of blissful ignorance. It promises to be a loaded gun, a tearjerker in the sense that it's completely unfair. This probably isn't for everyone.

But in this subject matter, he wrestles with questions that cannot be answered. For example: Should a terminal individual expand themselves and soak up life and touch the lives of others while they still can, or is more ethical to minimize the devastation of death?

I'm really glad he refrained from answering it - or rather, I'm glad he answered yes to both sides, in a way.

He's a wonderful author, and I'm not going to fault his stars. Even though I don't usually star things, he gets five.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I've been noticing Maureen Johnson's name on anthologies and twitter feeds, always listed near authors I love. This was my first impression of her writing. I found it promising, yet somehow unremarkable. Let me try to break down why. Perhaps thriller/fantasy isn't Maureen's thing.

Good points:
The main character is most interesting when she acts particularly southern - to wonderful comic effect. Whenever someone walks up to her without a greeting and launches into a rant, she replies, very simply, "Hi." How much more charmingly Southern can you get?

And her sidekicks are often more interesting than she is! I want to be Jazza, despite her flaws. "Aside from being the kind of person who used 'whom' correctly while gossiping, Jazza was also the kind of person who seemed pained about speaking badly about another person. She squeezed up her fists a few times, as if the gossip required physical pressure to leave her body." Boo is equally three-dimensional, with flaws, careless moments, and courage beyond the ordinary capacity of the adolescent.

The atmosphere is excellent. You don't forget you're in London for a second. Often, you forget that it's the present day and start thinking it's either ghostbuster 80's or 1888. Other times you think Maureen Johnson must have spent a semester abroad in London in college and badly needed the excuse to get all the details she garnered out of her notebook somehow.


Slight spoiler, but one you probably want to know:  She isn't the hero of the story. If she had succeeded in dying to protect her friends, perhaps she could have been. But in the end, she is robbed of this honor by a minor, one-dimensionally didactic character, and is more of a pathetic punching bag than anything else.

Outdated references/technology: Okay, I'M in college now, and I missed the Spice Girls fad. A present-day high schooler clearly would have missed it too. The phones with pressable number keys are acknowledged as outdated, but it sure seems like there could have been a stronger technology pick. No references to texting/computer use whatsoever. Oh, and a girl who's been displaced in London for eight temporary months makes no effort to contact any friends back home.

Romance: One-dimensional, uninteresting classmate love interest, who can be proud of "floppy curls and his goofy Ripper obsession" (along with everyone else in London) at best. There's a cute library haunter who's way more appealing, but she doesn't even think about it.

Thematic flaws were the most uncomfortable.

At its thematic best, this novel is a bit of a meditation on the fandom surrounding Jack the Ripper: Why is he such a big deal? The character Jerome says it's because Jack killed without rhyme or reason, for what seems to be a purely psychological purpose, and in this way, he's known as "the first modern killer." Well, if that's why we like Jack, this book is a ripoff! (No pun intended.) Maureen's ripper is not a psychological modern killer, but someone with an agenda.

Its conclusion to this meditation is further jarring. The characters all agree that the truth behind Jack the Ripper is bound to be disappointing, and the hype surrounding it is fallacious. The people who want to hear about him? What stupid losers.

Why are we reading this book? Why is the author exploring this premise?


I almost feel that this book REQUIRES a sequel to fill in the thematic gaps and to turn the main character into an actual hero. And maybe to make Jazza a more relevant part of the story.

But how can that happen? The Ripper is gone.

YOU by CHARLES BENOIT: An Original Format is Nothing Without OriginalContent.

I took a look at this book because it's told in SECOND PERSON OMG. I think this experimentation is a truly great thing in the world of YA lit.

But I regret to say that if it hadn't been told in SECOND PERSON OMG, I would not have read beyond the cover. I read thirty five pages of it, then skipped to the end. Here's why.

The prologue involves some kind of accident involving blood, and the main character trying to figure out where things went wrong. There are hints that he's on a track toward death. Yet, all of the content you get to fill in these spaces does not involve A) Deep, involving emotion, B) extraordinary, interesting circumstances, or even C) eloquent angst. It's mostly cliched whining about authority and academic boredom.

The love interest is flat and cliched in every way. The friends are flat and cliched in every way. After thirty five pages, the only glimmer of redeeming character depth is a one-sentence panic attack that culminates in a didactic break of POV in its rush to be quickly dismissed.

This is not how teenagers work. Sure, we can all dismiss and hide from guilty feelings. But if it's THAT easy, it's boring.

What gets me is how overwhelmingly didactic the story is; kid hangs out with rough crowd, angst a bit, one things leads to another, then blood. We've all seen this horror story. We've been forced to endure it in Drivers Ed classes, Don't Drink Seminars, etc.

Who thought that telling it in second person was a good idea?? It reads like a sermon from the bored; every other sentence could begin with "Of course."

At least for the first thirty-five pages, it's downright condescending.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I'll admit it. I read this book for the cover:

Come on. It's gorgeous. Emotional. Thought-provoking. I wanted to know what it was about.

I'm going to give you an important piece of information up front: It's a cliffhanger in the worst way. Very little is resolved at the end. It is not a self-contained story.

Buuuut I am looking forward to reading the rest.


The story blurs genres and borders on literary. Are we reading about the supernatural or simply post-traumatic stress disorder? Young adults who have been diagnosed with anxiety/depression/bipolar are common and this book exaggerates and begs the questions the many of them are asking: How crazy is crazy?

The love interest is a fantastic character. A modern Mr. Darcy with plenty of style, flirtation, flaw, and appeal. Reading this as purely a love story is very reductive compared to what it tries to be, with the many other elements it explores - but it's probably the most effective and appealing way to read it.

The letter at the very beginning is pretty cool. You find out that Mara Dyer isn't Mara Dyer's real name, but simply the name she's chosen to work with while she writes out this story. She's telling this story for a reason - this appeals to me immensely.


Of course, its failure to be a self-contained story is a flaw.

I don't think Michelle Hodkin really meant to portray anything like PTSD, and the way the story is set up is somewhat misleading about it. PTSD is a disorder which involves a person who is unable to stop thinking about a traumatic event. Mara finds it pretty darn easy to move on. After the first seventy pages or so, it's easy to forget that this girl's best childhood friend and boyfriend just died. I understand the author probably felt pressure to avoid angsting but... a girl in that situation would probably, in fact, angst a bit. She has every license to angst a bit. And she doesn't. She just moves along, pursues new relationships, and comes off as a bit of a sociopath. I was truly hoping that the novel would climax in her realizing all of the emotion she's been repressing - no such luck.

The quotations on the back are misleading. This book is not that scary! Mara, whose head we are always within, operates under the assumption that the scary things that happen to her are not real, but hallucinations and delusions. They don't fail to operate in that way.

Hope this is helpful.