21 September 2014

A PSA about My Love for Orphan Black

You know that moment when you discover a cool new thing and then you want everyone in the world to know about it? I am having that moment with the TV show Orphan Black.

I’m a little late to the party on that, since I’ve been seeing people raving about the show online for a while now. But I recently started watching it with my family . . . and now I’m deep in the throes of OMG ORPHAN BLACK IS AMAZING YOU NEED TO WATCH IT NOW.

Orphan Black

Things I love about Orphan Black:

  1. Tatiana Maslany. Sweet Jesus on a pogo stick, that woman can act. I don’t think it’s a big spoiler to say that Orphan Black is about clones, so Maslany plays about half the roles on the show. As of the middle of season two, she has played something like 12 different people. And they are different—so different from each other that I actually have trouble remembering that they are all played by the same actress. I’ve seen cast pictures and been momentarily confused . . . because where were all the other clones? I’ve been disappointed that she hasn’t received more accolades for this—she’s just so good it’s ridiculous.
  2. Felix. Felix is the best. The sassy, snarky, has-your-back best. The fact Felix is not my best friend makes my soul die a little. Half of the lines that make me laugh out loud on the show come out of Felix’s mouth. And I appreciate the way that he has a relationship with nearly all of the clones. He may not be Alison’s best friend, the way he is with Sarah, but he and Alison have a vibe that is all their own.
  3. Mrs S. Maria Doyle Kennedy is marvelous as Mrs S. She’s a character who you know from the beginning is tough as nails, but then you actually get to see those nails tested . . . and you realize they were tougher than you ever thought. Though I do wish that she and Sarah would stop working at cross-purposes half the time. No one would be able to stand up to them if they would make it a point to always work together.
  4. The cliffhangers. This is a love/hate sort of love. The show adores its cliffhangers, and those can get tiresome as a device if used without thought or overused (that goes for books, too). Orphan Black strikes a good balance for me in terms of cliffhanger use, enough that I’m groaning at the end of most episodes, checking the clock to see if I have time for one more, but I don’t feel spammed or jerked around by them. So it’s the best kind of love/hate.
  5. The evolution of secondary characters. People change in Orphan Black. In the second season, a character that I had pretty much nothing but contempt for had a change of heart (and a moment of awesome) that made me completely reevaluate my assessment of him.

Sadly, the third season won’t be out for a while. But I’m already excited for it—I have my theories of what will happen all prepared. It’s the best new show I’ve watched in a good while, so check it out if you haven’t.

26 August 2014

Teen Writing Opportunity: Oklahoma Youth Poet Laureate

I’m excited to be serving as a judge for the Oklahoma Literary Arts Alliance’s new program: the selection of an Oklahoma State Youth Poet Laureate! This is a brand new program, and it looks like it will be a really exciting one.

Here’s some info from the OLAA website:

During the months of August, September and October of 2014, OLAA will accept submissions from young poets, rappers, leaders and activists ages 14-19 from across Oklahoma who are interested in representing Oklahoma as the inaugural OK State Youth Poet Laureate. A group of esteemed judges will choose 12 Finalists, all given the distinction of “Oklahoma Youth Poet Ambassador,” and we will select one teen to be honored with the title of “OK State Youth Poet Laureate.” Along with winning the prestigious title of “Oklahoma State Youth Poet Laureate,” the winning poet will also win a book deal from Penmanship Books to publish their first collection of poems, as well as a library tour.

They’re accepting a wide variety of work—from written to performance poetry. The deadline is October 20th. For the complete rules and application process, visit the Oklahoma Literary Arts Alliance’s website.

I wish Oklahoma had had something like this when I was a teen. (Though, honestly, poetry has never been my strongest genre. But still, I would have applied!) If you’re a teen writer in Oklahoma, it’s definitely worth checking out.

7 August 2014

Flashback: To Be a Writer, Be a Reader

Since I’m migrating my blog from my old livejournal account to my new website, I thought I would repost a few of my favorite entries here. The old blog will remain up, but I’ll be posting all new material here from now on.

Originally posted on November 5th, 2012

I was once part of a conference where we were hosting one-on-one editing sessions: blocks of time where the editors had done critiques on short stories and novel sections and then sat down to talk to the writers about them. As one of the editors, I was talking to a woman about the manuscript she had turned in. Sadly, her story wasn’t great—tons of clichés, poor writing, etc. To try to get a handle on what she was going for with it, I asked her what she liked to read. Her answer: “I don’t read very much.”

I was completely flummoxed by this. Because for me, wanting to be a writer without first being a reader is like someone who hates eating wanting to be a food critic for Bon Appetit. Just as someone who doesn’t like food probably won’t be able to tell a good recipe from a bad one, a writer who doesn’t read the work of other writers won’t have the tools to tell good stories.

So here are a few pieces of advice I give everyone who wants to be a writer:

Read. To start with, just read, because any reading that you’re doing is ultimately going to make you more sensitive to style, pacing, character development, and all the other tools you’ll need in your own writing.

Read widely in your genre. Want to write a YA science fiction novel? Read other YA science fiction novels. Same goes for mystery, romance, fantasy—whatever you’re writing. When you read in your own genre, you learn a lot of useful things. How long do these sorts of books tend to be? Does the age of the narrator matter? What are the general rules and tropes of this genre? (Because you can’t break the rules until you know what they are.) What’s already been done here—and what’s been done to death? In short, really know the genre you’re writing in. Believe me, readers can tell when a writer doesn’t have much familiarity with their genre.

Read in genres that you’re not writing. While it makes sense to read in your genre, reading outside it might sound counterintuitive. But it isn’t. Different genres have different strengths and reading outside your own genre will let you tap into those. Also, reading outside your genre can get you thinking about your book or stories in new ways. When writing The False Princess, for instance, I read mystery novels to see how they balanced between parsing out clues to their mysteries and holding them back—how they gave readers enough information to make their big reveals make sense without giving them away too early.

Didn’t like a book? Figure out why. So you’re reading a book and not liking it, maybe enough to put it down right now. Or you read a book to the end and thought, Wow, I won’t be recommending that to anyone. This might seem like a waste of your reading time but, as a writer, it actually isn’t. Whenever you dislike a book, take a moment to figure out why. Was the style clunky? Did the characters act out of character? Was the end too easy or neat? Was the villain unmotivated? If you can figure out what turned you off to a book, you can make sure to avoid those same pitfalls in your own writing.

Short version, for me reading is the first step to becoming a writer (and possibly the most important after “actually write something.”) If you’re already a big reader, you’re on the right track; just make sure that you’re reading critically, and thinking about your own writing a little while you’re enjoying yourself. If you aren’t a reader, but want to write, head down to your library or bookstore. You’ll be amazed at how it changes your writing—for the better.

20 July 2014

This Week’s Reads

Some of the books that I have been most impressed with over the last few years are Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone books. The last book, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, came out recently, though I was a little late in getting to read it, since I let my husband read our copy first. Given how much I was looking forward to the book, I think I deserve gold stars for this good deed. (And no, I will not revoke my gold stars just because I had about eight library books out at the time Dreams came out and I needed to read all of them and get them back to the library before incurring enormous fines. It was still selfless of me. Noble even. Totally gold star-worthy.)

Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Dreams of Gods and Monsters

In any case, Dreams of Gods and Monsters is a fantastic end to a marvelous series. It’s always great when a writer takes the narrative in a direction that you never saw coming, but that feels completely organic and natural and right. I can’t talk about too much of the plot of the book without heavy spoilers, but it both opened doors I had not realized were there and tied up threads that I knew were there in unexpected and satisfying ways. The worldbuilding expanded into new places that I hope (really, seriously hope) will be explored in additional books, though if not, I’ll still feel like this was a good place to stop.

One of the things that I have admired the most about these books is the humor in them. There’s wonderful romance, fantastic worldbuilding, high stakes, and devastating consequences, but threaded through it all are lines and scenes that literally make me laugh out loud. Sometimes cackle out loud. Out loud enough that you can hear me at the other end of the house and I once startled Zuul. (Who is, granted, startleable.) Being the last book in the series, this book has a lot more heavy lifting to do than the others, and is more serious in tone. But the  chapter “Eyebrow Master Class” was one of the most hysterical pieces of writing I have read recently. I want to marry Zuzana. Or at least worship at her platform heel-shod feet.

In short, I’ve been saying for several years that these are among the best YA coming out now and the last book clinches it. If you haven’t read them, go now. Purchase. Borrow. Read.

6 July 2014

Welcome to My New Website!

Hi there! I’m excited to show off my new and improved website!

I’ve been working with Jennifer Armbrust of Armbrust and Co. for the past couple of months to build a cool new website. And I’m really, really thrilled with it! Jennifer did a fantastic job with the design, especially since I’m not a very design-oriented person and my initial description of what I wanted was something along the lines of “Pretty. I want it pretty. With colors. And fonts. Pretty fonts.” From that, Jennifer created what you see here–a website that makes me feel like a real, grown-up author. Kind of the way that, as a teenager, you feel grown-up when you finally strip the unicorn wallpaper off your bedroom walls. (Though I never actually did this, because UNICORNS.)

So, I’m excited. And I think the best way to share my excitement and kick off the new website is with a giveaway! You can win signed copies of The False Princess and signed copies of the audiobook of The False Princess, read by the awesome Mandy Williams.

Win me!

Win me!

To enter, fill out the form below. You can get entries by friending me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, tweeting about the giveaway, following me on Tumblr, or posting information about the giveaway on Tumblr. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents (sorry international folks, but I promise to do a giveaway that includes you soon). The deadline to enter is July 31st.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks so much for stopping by! Please poke around the new site. I have a few new features on the Extras page, including a certain map from The False Princess, and I’m hoping to add more extras in the coming months. And please let me know by email if you find any bugs so that I can get them fixed up.

(Also, if you’re looking for old blog posts, you can still find them at my old blog on livejournal. I won’t be posting there anymore, but I will leave them up for archival purposes.)