Overcoming Fear

45313817_10104694133620575_7497567225709068288_nI’ve written one novel, revised it more times than I can count, and submitted to approximately 28 agents with lukewarm success.

The most common feedback I received was that agents liked my concept, but the opening wasn’t grabbing them.

Which is why it took me so long to start my next project. I was literally terrified of writing another boring opening chapter.

I’ve been planning this book since June… wanted to start writing in July. Didn’t. Wanted to start in August. Didn’t. Wanted to start in September… well, you get the picture.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo because I was so fed up with my fear. I missed writing. I used to LOVE the first draft process. Watching a story come to life after being just a spark is THE BEST.

I finished my opening chapter today. Had my fiancé read it. (I know he’s biased, but still.) He laughed out loud in parts. And his feedback was how impressed he was that it opened with such a punch. (My MC eats alien bugs and then has to race back to the space shuttle because of a tsunami.)

So I feel like I conquered my biggest fear, but also grew as a writer. I’m not doomed to write boring first chapters. I can learn and grow and become a stronger writer. I just need to get my butt in that chair, hands on keys, and WRITE.

So to all of you who have fears to overcome–I feel you! You can overcome them! I believe it you! Let’s create!

The Feminist YA Book You Need RIGHT NOW

Do you need a feminist book in your life right now?
Do you want a book that is both hilarious and powerful?
Do you want a book about a girl who doesn’t take “no” for an answer?
Do you want a book about a girl who takes on the patriarchy?
Do you want a book about a girl who is as clever as Hermione, but can prank like Fred and George?

This is the book that women all over the country need right now.
I need it right now. I plan to re-read it promptly.
Because I so desperately need a laugh, but I also want to feel empowered.

Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksTitle: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart

Summary from Goodreads: 
Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

Who would be interested in doing a read-along of this book? Live discussion? Yes?!
I am thinking the two weeks leading up to Election Day.
Who’s in?? Comment below if you’re interested!

Struggling to begin a new project

Writer TearsFor the past year, I’ve been struggling with my writing life. I finished and submitted a manuscript to 28 agents. I received responses with varying degrees of interest, but no offers of representation.

I’m in this weird funk. I want to start something fresh and new. But whenever I go to work on a new project, I can get excited about the concept–but the characters don’t feel real to me.

With my previous book, the characters still feel like real, living, breathing people. They are as real to me as Hermione Granger or Ender Wiggin or Daenerys Targaryen.

In my efforts to begin a new manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books on character development. I’ve done extensive character planning sheets. My new characters have goals and dreams. I know where they have tattoos and who their secret crushes are. I know what haunts them in their backstory.

But they aren’t real people to me. I don’t catch myself thinking about them as I drive to work. I even get them confused by interchanging their names by mistake. I tried drawing pictures of them so that I would have some clear visuals to keep them all straight.

I’m hesitant to start writing any piece of the actual narrative because I’m worried it will be a total mess. If I don’t know my characters, how can I write anything? It will be inconsistent and confusing.

I wonder though, if I’m not allowing myself to let these characters in. I still yearn to work on my other project. To spend time with the characters I love and know. To finish their story.

But I also recognize that it’s likely time for me to move on to something new in order to grow as a writer. I hope that someday, when a new project lands me an agent and I have a debut novel, I’ll get asked, “What else have you got?” And that will be my opportunity to share this project that I love so much.

But until then I need to find a way to open my heart to something new.

What advice do you have to writers who are struggling to start a new project?

Should I dabble in fanfiction to find my groove again? Should I put my new characters in an empty room and write how they interact?

Any advice is much appreciated!

Summer 2018 Goals

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Summer 2018 Goals

This teacher is officially on summer break! The 2017-18 school year was a special one for me as a teacher. I had some the kindest students that I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching. But most of all, I finally reached a point with my teaching where I felt fulfilled by my work. Everything clicked for me this year, and I had a powerful moment where my individual purpose and goals as a teacher became crystal clear.

However, I am very much grateful for the summer break. To recharge. To not have a two hour a day commute. And most of all, to pursue some personal goals.

I am trying to keep a lot of structure and deadlines to my summer in order to make it as productive as possible. I’ll be doing Sunday check-ins to reflect on progress with each goal.

Writing Goals:

  • Query one agent per week for finished manuscript. (9 agents total)
  • Write a 60k draft of new sci-fi project (1500 words per day)
  • Enter Pitch Wars (August 27-29)

Reading Goals:

  • Read one physical book, one audiobook, and one graphic novel per week.

Teaching Goals:

  • I am taking a course on “Having Hard Conversations” for professional development. This should help me as I go into my second year as the Cultural Proficiency Liaison at my school.

Fitness Goals:

  • Attend four exercise classes per week (Body Pump, Barre, Yoga, Body Sculpt).

30582403_10104292164499915_2551495175536902144_nWedding Goals:

  • I got engaged in April. (At a castle in Portugal to my favorite person in the whole wide world! Yay!) My main goal for this summer is to choose a wedding venue and set a date.

Definitely feel like these goals are ambitious when they are all written out. Yikes! But I’m super happy with where I am right now, and excited about where I’m headed.

Anyone else setting summer reading or writing goals? Let’s keep each other on track!

 

Audiobook Review: The Belles

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 10.58.14 AMThe Belles
by Dhonielle Clayton
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Form: Audiobook and Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Beauty, Power, Sisterhood

Summary from Goodreads: 
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

My Thoughts:
This book is luscious. I was immediately drawn into the world of Orléans because the author’s use of sensory detail is unbelievable. Color, taste, touch, and smell fill the pages of the book. The writing is full of similes that are as lush as the world they describe.

In terms of genre, I categorize this book as fantasy dystopian. Initially, you’ll be pulled in by the enchanting beauty being described, but as the plot progresses the beauty warps into a twisted and sickening thing.

Camellia is a likable heroine. She treasures her family/sisters while also having strong personal ambitions. She has a strong sense of morality, and yet, when she falters, you understand why.

Two of my favorite aspects of this world were the post-balloons and teacup animals. I loved the idea of balloons carrying messages. To arrive home and see balloons bobbing with notes is something I want in the real world! And the teacup-size pets are just too cute! I want one!

There are two rather disturbing parts of the book: an assault and a torture scene. The torture scene was definitely hard to get through.

Ultimately, this book has so many deeper levels to consider. From it’s analysis of beauty–it’s power and how it can be weaponized. To a deeper subtext examining servant and master. “No one is a prisoner. Even you have the power to make your own choices.”

Overall: If you enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series or the 2006 film Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst, you will love this! This was one of my favorite reads so far this year. I would gladly re-read this book before the sequel comes out. Five stars!

 

Series Review: Saga Volumes 1-7

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Saga (Volumes 1-7)
by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)
Published by: Image Comics
Form: Paperback
Big Themes: Forbidden Love, Family, Effects of War, Refugees, Trust, Growth

Summary from Goodreads (Volume One): When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

My thoughts:
I just re-read Volumes 1-7 of Saga, and fell in love with this series all over again.

This is a comic for grown adults. Particularly Millennials who are embarking on the next phase of life–adulthood, married life, creating a family of your own. This is a love story, but not a meet cute, falling-in-love type story. This story starts with the birth of a child, from two forbidden lovers who married in secret. We start as the family is forming, and follow this family through the universe.

Lyingcat

I adore this comic. I love Alana and Marko. I love that there is a beautiful, bizarre, action-packed space opera comic about a mom and a dad raising their daughter and trying to keep her safe.

This comic is definitely bizarre. The world is strange and gritty. There are aliens unlike anything you’ve seen before. A sexy blonde alien that is half spider. A red ghost that is missing her lower half. A blue cat that knows when people lie.

There is a lot of violence. Lots of swearing. Lots of sex. It’s an adult world with adult problems. I wouldn’t recommend this series to teens. Because honestly, they aren’t the target audience.

The core of the story is watching Marko and Alana and hoping they manage to succeed in raising their little girl in this messed-up alien world. Despite the bizarre nature of this universe, the characters are so REAL. You can relate and connect to their struggles and joys.

Vaughan’s writing is strong. Each character has motivation. There are clear character arcs. Staples’ art is stunning. Her drawing style adds such depth to the characters and world.

I fly through each volume because the plot is fast-paced and ever-changing. However, upon re-reading them, you notice the themes and questions that the comic forces you to ponder. What is the definition of family? When is violence okay? Is it selfish to put your own family’s safety above the safety of others?

sagaArt

This article in The Atlantic articulates better than I can the themes and topics this series explores.

The Sprawling, Empathetic Adventure of Saga
One of the most prestigious comic-book series in print today is an unwieldy, profane, and glorious ode to compassion and equality.

I just love this series so much. I don’t know where Vaughan and Staples are heading, but I trust them enough to hop on for a ride through their universe.

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five stars and a Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval. If you enjoy expansive sci-fi universes, don’t mind adult content, and are looking for an unconventional comic series. This is it.

Audiobook Review: Wonder Woman Warbringer

Wonder Woman WarbringerWonder Woman: Warbringer
by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Random House Children’s Books
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Heroism, War, Legend, Humanity

Summary from Goodreads: 
Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

My Thoughts:
Despite loving Wonder Woman in theaters and becoming a total Gal Gadot fangirl, I didn’t jump at the chance to pick this book up. I assumed it was a movie adaptation in book form. And didn’t think it could live up to the movie.

I assumed wrong. This book is totally worth picking up. There is a totally different plotline from the movie, but much of the same heart and earnestness that makes Wonder Woman such an endearing hero.

One element of the book that I really enjoyed was the two narrators. Diana (Wonder Woman) has a more antiquated and formal way of speaking. The other narrator, Alia, is a modern teenage girl from NYC. The contrasting points-of-view resulted in some lovely bits of humor in how each character saw the world and each other. And Alia’s voice was one that a modern reader could connect with.

The plot includes a ton of Greek Mythology, so fans of Percy Jackson will eat this up. The story made me especially want to research Helen of Troy. I remembered bits and pieces of her story from The Iliad, but this story humanizes her in a way that I appreciated.

The secondary characters, particularly Nim and Theo, were vivid and sympathetic. There were several plot twists that I didn’t see coming (and a few I had a hunch were coming). I was never bored, and eager to hop in my car to continue the audiobook!

Overall: Four stars. A thrilling adventure story with a lot of heart. If you loved Wonder Woman (the movie) or enjoy Percy Jackson, you will love this!