Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Blog-Day to Me!

Cake for everyone! Um, where'd it go?
One year ago, on October 28, 2010, I broke down and started a blog. Everybody was doing it, and I was close enough to the end of my very first WIP that I figured it was a good time to establish an online presence.

My awesome sister-in-law, Paula Weeks, took my pictures and made me look better than I thought I could.

My friend Devoney needed a website design project for school, and graced me with her talent.

Then I just had to think of some stuff to say.

Turns out, blogging can be fun--and not just because I get to display my mental vomit for the world to see. It's so much easier to get to know friends when you have a home to invite them to! It helps me feel like a real online person, rather than just a ghost, flitting around, looking at everyone else's stuff. Mostly, it helps me join contests, blogfests, blog chains, and other awesome community activities that just aren't possible for the blog-less.

Also, so much fun to collect followers. Just sayin.

So, as a present to my awesome followers, I'm giving away TWO $10 gift cards to either Barnes & Noble or Amazon by random drawing.

Easy requirements to earn one entry:

  1. Comment on this post (Hi!)
  2. Leave your ee-mail address (you can't win if I can't find you)
  3. Total your points for me (dammit, Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a mathematician)

You can win up to 3 extra entries (total of 4 possible):

  1. 1 entry for following my blog (new followers welcome!)
  2. 1 entry for tweeting/facebooking/G+ing and/or blogging about the contest
  3. 1 entry for answering one or more of the following questions:
    1. What is your favorite thing about blogging?
    2. What is your favorite thing about MY blog?
    3. What would you like to see more of on my blog?
    4. What is the best book you've read this year?
    5. Which book are you looking forward to reading as soon as it comes out?
Contest will run through November 4th at 5:00 PM MDT.

Thanks for a great year, everyone!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everlovin' EVERNEATH

Let's start with the FTC disclaimer, shall we? Wouldn't want you thinking that my review here was completely unbiased. Oh, no. For all you know I rave about my friends' books all the time, and you can't trust my review to actually reflect reality. [If you care nothing for the FTC, skip to the picture.]

So first I'll mention that I fell in love with Brodi Ashton's blog long before I fell in love with EVERNEATH. By a few months. I started following in early 2010, and still stop by three times a week. She's hilarious. She never fails to entertain. She has a quirky sense of humor and an understandably loyal following. Her blog posts are all over the place, about everything from tennis star wedgies to her dad's cancer. She gives topics their proper weight, but you never feel depressed when you leave. Love. Brodi's. Blog.

I also love Brodi. I met her in 2010 when her writer's group let me and my friend hang out with them at a writer's conference. I've interviewed her (and her group) on Authors' Advisory. I've emailed her when exciting things happened to me, and she's given me excellent advice about starting out in this crazy industry. She lets me call her a friend, and I'm proud to do so.

As long as we're being thorough, I've been determined to love EVERNEATH since mid-April, 2010. That's when Brodi posted the first page or so on her blog. I was hooked but good! Obsessed, rather. I must have read that poor thing more than 20 times. It fairly drips emotion. I couldn't wait to read more and, by January 28, 2011, was so convinced it was a future bestseller, I predicted it on my blog. By the end of February, 2011, I'd seen the cover and knew I was right.

So was I biased when I read it? Um, yes, counselor. You could say that. Did I really, really, really WANT to be right about it? Yes, again. Did I ignore glaring flaws in my single-minded quest to have my own pre-fabricated opinions justified? Who's to say? I don' think so, but I can understand if you're a bit skeptical.

Which is why you'll have to read it for yourself. And OHHH YOU WANT TO!!

At long last, the (non-spoiler-y) review:

Seriously. Who can resist this cover?
This is the blurb on Brodi's site. You might as well read it, since I'm not going to add much to the facts:
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...
I read EVERNEATH at the end of July, 2011. I'm participating in an ARC tour, but Brodi was so sympathetic to my desperation to read it, she put other friends and family on hold to send me one of her own loaner ARCs. (Good thing, because the touring ARC still hasn't reached me.) If you want my first reaction, go here.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about EVERNEATH is the absence of Brodi's trademark quirky humor. This is not a laugh-out-loud book. If you're making loud noises while reading it, you're more likely to have a tissue in your hand than a grin on your face. There's not a lot to laugh about in Nikki's world, frankly. She effectively died six months ago, surrendering the rest of her life to someone else. Now she's back, but without any hope of redemption. With only the knowledge that she's going to hurt everyone so much worse when she leaves again in six months. With only a small window to do as much good as she can for her friends and family.

For anyone who has ever felt helpless, who has watched as a loved one hurtles toward pain and been powerless to stop it, who has caused a loved one pain and who knows you'll just do it again... this is a powerful book. Nikki is stuck. She can't fix it. She can't really say goodbye this time. She can't explain where she's been or why she left. She can't reconnect... but she can't push everyone away, either.

Quite the premise, yes? The execution is better.

EVERNEATH's narrative skips between time lines, showing what happened before she left, what happened since she got back, and what happened while she was gone. I thought it was amazingly effective. If it bothers you at all, wait. By the end, you'll love it as much as I do.

Brodi's language is heartbreaking, but, achingly, also filled with hope. Each sentence is a pleasure to read--even if you have to wipe your eyes so you can see first. The mystery is intricate and the looming deadline enough to induce hyperventilation.

I loved it. Not just because I was right, and it's gonna be a bestseller. It made me weep. It broke my heart. And, ultimately, it taught me that hope can hide in the darkest of corners.

It has also made me pathetically eager for the sequel.

You can find EVERNEATH here: 
GOODREADS
Pre-order at Indiebound
Pre-order on Amazon
Pre-order on Barnes and Noble

Go pre-order it now. You'll thank me later.

So have YOU read EVERNEATH? You want to, right?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sickly, Sickly Me

One of my favorite authors took an unflattering pic of herself and posted it on her site, calling it an entry in a contest for worst author photo. Now I have my own. It doesn't show up all that well in the photo, but I now have a shiny red dot on the end of my nose. Can you see it? That is NOT normal.

I have strep. That's not one of those gee-wizz, guess I have to lie in bed and read kind of owies. It hurts to talk and it hurts to swallow. It hurts standing, sitting, and lying down. I'd get more sleep if I didn't have to wake up every 2 hours to take more fever/pain meds. Even taking them that much, I haven't dropped below 99 in days. I'm either shaking from the cold or burning up.

I got a shot, I'm taking the rest of my antibiotics like a good girl, but I guess strep is something you just have to ride out.
So, sorry for the blog silence. I've been too busy whimpering.
So how are all of you? What's your least favorite sickness? Does the threat of catching it inspire you to, like, exercise, eat right, and get plenty of sleep?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Had enough pitch contests? Me, neither.

No, not that kind
Just today I was listening to Writing Excuses talk about pitching (and excellent advice it was, too) and thinking I really ought to try to rewrite my pitch. Again. To simplify it. Or something. But how to tell if my new pitch was doing the job?

Then my awesome blog friend Nancy Thompson posted (on her blog) about Lisa L. Regan's pitch contest. Which starts today, and runs through next Monday, October 17, 2011. Kismet, right?

So check it out--this is what Lisa says about the contest:
To Enter:
You must be a follower of [Lisa's] blog and provide a link to either a tweet or a blog post spreading the word about this contest.
You must have a completed novel. Your novel MUST be finished to enter this contest.
Write a 50 word paragraph that is the hook for your book. Basically pitch your book in fifty words.

Post your 50 word pitch in the comments section of my blog with a TITLE and your contact info before the closing date of the contest.

...

Jeanie [Pantelakis of Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency, Lisa's agent] will choose three finalists. The finalists will send her a synopsis of their book as well as their full manuscript. From those three finalists, Jeanie will choose one manuscript and that manuscript will get a full read and a possible contract with Sullivan Maxx.

Pretty cool, huh?

So here's my new 50 word pitch for the contest. I've cut out a lot of stuff that I used to have in my pitches, in the hopes that 1) it won't be quite as confusing, and 2) lack of confusion will lead to more "tell me more" reactions. According to the Writing Excuses team, the elevator pitch (which, depending on how fast you talk, might actually be longer than 50 words), is only supposed to catch their interest and make them say "tell me more." Like most authors, I've struggled (and wrestled, and boxed, and played high-stakes strip poker) with this concept. How can I possibly condense the complex wonder that is my very long novel to one-or-two interesting core concepts? I've tried before, and I'll likely try again. This is my most recent effort:

Brina, like all pixies, can make her own drugs – er, dust. Which the humans appreciate, even if no one can quite get used to Brina’s brown skin, courtesy of her Hispanic human mother. But there’s dust and dust, and a hybrid shouldn’t be suddenly able to make all eight kinds.

So what do you think? Do you want to hear more or are you going "meh" right now? I'm going to enter this in the contest in a couple minutes, but please feel free to suggest improvements. There bound to be another contest sometime! :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm a PODCASTER!

I know it will come as a shock, but this isn't my only blog. I also maintain David Farland's Authors' Advisory Conference Calls blog. There are other members of the team, and we've asked for tech advice from several other techies, but I'm the closest thing we have to in-house "tech support."

I know, I know. Laugh it up. Do you need a Kleenex?

So, anyway, we've wanted to provide the calls as a podcast for a long time, now. Callers have asked for it. All the other cool writing advice sites have podcasting. Wouldn't want to be different, right?

What's wrong with us? I just could not figure out how. I've researched it many a time and ended up confused, with a headache, and really no closer to the goal than I was before. It needed to be free, since we have no budget. It needed to be easy, since, well, let's face it: the internet really got going as I was starting college. My formative years were all pre-internet. I get along okay with most things, but computer genius I am not.

So finally, on my latest foray into the wild world of Let's-See-If-I-Can-Figure-This-Out... I DID IT!!!

Turns out, Blogger now works really well with Feedburner. Even provides a link to Feedburner in the help screen... and Feedburner is easy enough for a non-techie 30-something to use!!

And so, for all of you who have longed to have Authors's Advisory on your ITunes or other podcast players, head on over to the Authors' Advisory site and try it out.
Arrows not included
Then, after you've done that, please let me know if it worked for you, if you had any issues... and if you know how to fix those issues.

Thanks to all of you who have given me advice on this perplexing problem. Little by little, my brain finally figured out what you were talking about. Mostly.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

100 Posts! Recommendations for Everyone!


This is my 100th blog post!!!! Party!!! Confetti!! Cookies for everyone!

I haven’t posted for a week, because I just couldn’t think of anything cool enough to put in my 100th post. How does one manage to choose such things?

I wanted to do a give-away, but, dang it, I’m poor, and can’t finance anything big enough. Maybe for my upcoming blog-i-versary.

So I decided to give you all a list of my 100 favorite books from the last three years. The ones I’d love to recommend to you—and frequently do recommend to those who ask. I’ve been logging my reading since April of 2008, so I had over 500 books to choose from. I went through and weeded out the ones I didn’t feel good about recommending. Those I couldn’t remember, or wasn’t all that impressed by. I also weeded out many that I really do love, but knew would get easily cut from the top 100. I was left with over 200. *Sigh*

Of the over 200 finalists, most were part of a series. If I were to list each series as a single entry instead of multiple entries, I’d be under 100. Bother.

So we’re left with the following categorized list of books I would like to recommend to you, depending on your tastes. There are many more amazing books out there that I’ve read in my life, including classics and more modern novels. These are just my favorites from the last three years—since I decided to become a novelist myself. Some I’ve broken down into series, and some I’ve listed by author. This is a long post, so feel free to skip forward to your favorite genre—or the genre you’d like to try out—and see what I’m recommending there. To help you decide where to start, I’ve listed my top choice first in each category. UPDATED to add pictures, so you know the cover to look for. :)

General disclaimer: not all of these books are PG-rated. If you prefer PG-rated books, proceed with caution, and feel free to contact me for specifics on each book. Everyone’s tastes and sensibilities are different: I promise not to judge you if you promise not to judge me. :)

Also, I was going to link to each author, but that’s too much work, so I’m linking to my top author in each category and trusting that you can get Google to help you find the rest.

YA Low / Urban Fantasy
These books take our world and add magic. This is my favorite category, so I’ve read a lot of books in it. Harry Potter isn’t listed only because I haven’t read him recently.

Top Recommendation: Everneath by Brodi Ashton –it comes out in January 2012, but I read an ARC a few weeks ago. You’re going to want it. Pre-Order it now. You’ll thank me later. My full-ish review will be up here on October 26th.








Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (yes, I still love the books)
  2. Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, beginning with City of Bones—and don’t forget the spin-off prequel series: The Infernal Devices
  3. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead
  4. Wings series by Aprilynne Pike
  5. My Fair Godmother series by Janette Rallison (with another UF series to come under the pen-name CJ Hill)
  6. The Dark Divine series by Bree Despain
  7. Artemis Fowl (thanks, Shelly) series by Eoin Colfer (I’ve only read the first, but it was very fun)
  8. Need series by Carrie Jones
  9. Faeriewalker series by Jenna Black, beginning with Glimmerglass
  10. Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong, beginning with The Summoning
  11. Paranormalcy series by Kiersten White
  12. Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr
  13. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


YA / MG High Fantasy
These books are about a different world than ours, with magic and mystery.

Top recommendation: The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale, beginning with The Goose Girl. While you’re at it, read her other fine, award-winning YA books (and her adult books). I love Shannon’s lyrical writing, and the way her characters lean on their friends to succeed. Also the romance. J







Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Anything by Jessica Day George, especially Princess of the Midnight Ball (which is really about a boy)
  2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  3. The Glasswrights' Apprentice series by Mindy Klasky (though I haven’t finished it yet)
  4. Far World Series by J. Scott Savage, beginning with Water Keep
  5. The Shifter series by Janice Hardy
  6. The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan, beginning with The Magician’s Guild


YA Dystopian      
Everybody’s utopia is someone else’s dystopia. I like to diss this category, but there are still lots of books I like in it.

Top Recommendation: Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I’m not sure I’ll ever be brave enough read it again (or see the movie), but it’s a brutal, dazzling, and haunting ride. Definitely a must-read.








Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner (final book due out in 10 days!)
  2. Matched Ally Condie (book #2 is due out November 1)
  3. Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld (excluding Extras—I just couldn’t finish it)


YA Contemporary Romance
Our world, with romance and no magic. What’s not to love?

Top Recommendation: Any number of books by Janette Rallison. Especially try My Double Life and Just One Wish. Normal teenagers with mostly normal problems. Janette is quirky, profound, hilarious, and an all-around treat to read. (And she’s starting a new YA UF series under the pen name of CJ Hill!)







Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (sooo looking forward to reading Lola, too!)
  2. Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith
  3. The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
  4. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr


Adult Low / Urban Fantasy
Our world, magic, few teenagers. “Adult” doesn’t mean X-rated, but some of them are a bit graphic—in blood and / or in sex. Know your sensibilities and choose wisely.

Top Recommendation: I have to go with Patricia Briggs. I’m so in love with her Mercy Thompson series (starting with Moon Called), I went back and read everything she’s ever written. You should, too. (Some of it is high fantasy.) Mercy Thompson also has a great spin-off series called Alpha and Omega. Read that, too.

Can’t-help-it Runner-up: Ilona Andrews, especially her Kate Daniels series, beginning with Magic Bites. There’s a bit of post-apocalyptic in this one, but it’s an amazing world and a wonderful what-if. Ilona (who is really a wife-husband writing team) also has a great UF series called The Edge—starting with On the Edge.







Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category (and, really, I keep re-arranging the first 4):
  1. The Hallows series by Kim Harrison, beginning with Dead Witch Walking
  2. Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong, beginning with Bitten.
  3. Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter, beginning with Skinwalker
  4. The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, beginning with Halfway to the Grave
  5. Sookie Stackhouse series (the inspiration for TruBlood on HBO) by Charlaine Harris, beginning with Dead Until Dark
  6. Harper Connelley series by Charlaine Harris, beginning with Grave Sight
  7. Allie Beckstrom Series by Devon Monk, beginning with Magic to the Bone
  8. Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson, starting with Undead and Unwed (vampire chick-lit)
  9. The Walker Papers series by C.E. Murphy, beginning with Urban Shaman
  10. The Negotiator series by C.E. Murphy, beginning with Heart of Stone
  11. Broken Heart series by Michele Bardsley, beginning with I'm the Vampire, That's Why
  12. Girl's Guide to Witchcraft series by Mindy Klasky
  13. Stormwalker series by Allyson James


Adult High Fantasy
Think Lord of the Rings—which isn’t on the list only because I haven’t read it in the last three years

Top Recommendation: Anything by Brandon Sanderson. The Mistborn series, Elantris, Warbreaker, The Way of Kings—all excellent, mind-blowing, and depressingly discouraging to a wanna-be like me. (One of my wanna-be friends threw Elantris across the room when he finished it because it was so good. How can we hope to measure up to that?) I’m even tempted to wade through the whole Wheel of Time series because Brandon is writing the end of it! (Also, Brandon is coming to Authors’ Advisory on October 5 to talk about Magic Systems!!)




Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, beginning with The Name of the Wind (though, honestly, I’m waiting until the series is complete before I read past #1—three year lag times are a bit much for me)      
  2. Rogue Mage series by Faith Hunter, beginning with Bloodring
  3. The Tide Lords series by Jennifer Fallon, beginning with The Immortal Prince (sadly, I haven’t yet read the last book)
  4. Mad Kestral by Misty Massey


Steampunk (YA and Adult)
Take historical times and pretend they were as smart about science as they thought they were. Steam-powered gadgetry a must.

Top Recommendation: the Alexia Tarabotti series by Gail Carriger, beginning with Soulless. This is actually Victorian Fantasy Steampunk with a healthy dose of romance. Ever wonder how tiny little England took over the world? They had werewolves in their military, of course. And those strange Victorian fashions? Vampires. Absolutely hilarious books, with a YA spinoff in the works.

Close Runner-Up: Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. A commoner girl pretending to be a boy falls in love with a royal boy who doesn’t know she’s a girl, while they ride around on a flying whale fighting elaborate machines in a rewritten version of World War I. The third book, Goliath, just came out, and I’m so excited to read it!!











Horror
Stephen King is the master at this. Take one relatable, mostly ordinary hero, pit him against something terrifying, and raise your reader’s pulse.

Top Recommendation: I Am Not a Serial Killer series by Dan Wells. #2 is Mr. Monster. #3 is I Don’t Want to Kill You. If the titles don’t convince you, they’re about John Wayne Cleaver, a 15-year-old diagnosed sociopath who is obsessed with serial killers… but doesn’t want to become one. He has rules to keep him from going down that path (i.e. No Stalking People)—and they’re working just fine until a serial killer comes to town. John decides he can stop him… he’ll just have to break some of his rules.




Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz
  2. The Frankenstein series by Dean Koontz, beginning with Prodigal Son         
  3. By the Light of the Moon by Dean Koontz
  4. The Meridians (Ebook) by Michaelbrent Collings (who writes a lot like Dean Koontz) :)

           
Sci-Fi (Adult and YA) 
Playing with possibilities in scientific advancement, space travel, and alien life forms.

Top Recommendation: The Host by Stephenie Meyer. It’s simply amazing. The body-snatcher “Souls” are wonderfully kind and utterly perplexed about why these few “wild” humans are still resisting. The Souls unquestionably improve the societal structure on every planet they conquer. They eliminate poverty, sickness… and human consciousness—at least, until the Soul Wanderer takes over Melanie’s body. This heart-wrenching love story is told from Wanderer’s perspective, but is intimately woven with the perspective of the woman still hanging onto her mind—and her memories of a lost love.



Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Across the Universe by Beth Revis (book two coming soon)
  2. Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre, beginning with Grimspace


Adult Contemporary Romance
If you need an endorphin fix, a Happily-Ever-After, or just a reason to believe that things really can work out in the end, this is the genre for you. Unless you’re under 18 or squeamish about sex in novels. Then ask your parents first.

Top Recommendation: Anything by Robyn Carr. And not just because she’s my mentor. Her recent Grace Valley and Virgin River series about tiny towns nestled in gigantic mountains are the ultimate in comfort food. Beautiful women, manly men (mostly ex-marines), and (fictional) tight-knit communities so real you’ll be calling your realtor.






Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, especially What I Did For Love
  2. Anything by Jennifer Crusie, especially Bet Me, where the overweight girl still gets the hotty guy—and you’ll actually believe it!
  3. Almost anything by Loretta Chase, especially Lord of Scoundrels
  4. Traitor series by Sandra "my first-cousin Noreen" Grey (Though I haven’t read past the first book yet. Bad cousin. No cookie.)

           
Adult Contemporary
Present day. Not romance, not fantasy, not horror.

Top Recommendation: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson. They can be disturbingly graphic, but if you’re not turned off by that sort of thing, the books are heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, and leave you rooting for the girl with weird hair, piercings, and tats. Who just happens to be a genius. And a hacker. And not half as incompetent as she’s been declared. And the toughest waif you’ll ever meet. It’s no wonder us Americans wanted our own set of films.





Other amazing books I’ve read recently in this category:
  1. Nadia Stafford series by Kelley Armstrong, beginning with Exit Strategy—female ex-cop hit-man… er woman
  2. Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, though I’ve only read the first one: The Eyre Affair

           
Writing Craft Books
Yeah, I really should read more of these. Most of my writing education lately has been from blogs, though, and blogs (as everybody knows) have excellent information on them. Still, these books are great, too. Even though I can’t pick a favorite.

On Writing (A Memoir of the Craft) by Stephen King—this is sort of a must-read for a genre writer. See King’s journey from dirt-poor scribbler to world-renowned author. Also, lots of solid (and some take-it-or-leave-it) advice on how to follow in his footsteps.













The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth by James N. Frey—a wonderful description of the Hero’s Journey, the various characters, the steps along the way, and why readers love this structure again and again and again.


-------------------------

Whew! You’re still here? You skipped, didn’t you? That’s okay. Come back whenever you’re wondering what to read next. :) I've specifically mentioned 77 books and/or series, so you should have enough to keep you busy for a while. 

So do our tastes match? Is your favorite missing? (If so, keep in mind that I might have read it over 3 years ago.) See any you want to try next? 

Finally, thanks so much to all my followers / readers / friends / family. Blogging wouldn't be half as much fun without you!