Updates, News, and All the Bookish Things: Part 2

Greetings from New Hampshire! This weekend I’m stuck house-sitting and dog-sitting for my sister (I know. Poor me, right?) and have converted the period into a mini writing retreat with me, myself, and I. And of course, with this dapper gentleman by my side:

IMG_5201

Master Skywalker, my faithful writing companion

Hopefully his incessant need for cuddles and playtime won’t be too distracting. There’s still a lot of revision work to be done, and I’m ready to get my hands dirty—with words, that is.

And now to conclude the epic two-part bookish post . . .

WRITING UPDATES (and REVELATIONS)

Over the past few weeks/days, writing has been a liiiiiittle bit of a struggle. Due to the craziness that has been April (Aprilpocalypse, as I’ve been starting to call it), my writing has suffered from how scattered my brain has just been feeling. Words were coming out more like a trickle than the usual fountain spray, and it was FRUSTRATING me to no end. But you know what, it’s important to remember that this is all part of the process. We have our highs, we have our lows, and we have our in-betweens. Everyone struggles, but those struggles are what make you stronger. I was grappling with understanding this a lot last week, thinking that maybe because the words weren’t flowing as well as they usually were, that something was broken either in my manuscript plans or my writing. Maybe I needed to take a break. But after forcing myself to sit at my desk and trying at it again and again (and AGAIN) each day, no matter how pitiful the word counts were, I finally broke through that stubborn wall. Words are flowing, ideas are going, and now I have over 20k of new material to work with, and counting! Huzzah!

Also, I don’t know how this completely went over my head, but my blog officially turned one two weeks ago!! Time has passed so quickly, and SO much has changed since then. But being able to look back on where I was in terms of my writing, life, and head space just reminds me why keeping a blog is so precious. It’s like a time-capsule of progress, a flight of stairs being built with each written post. I’m not sure where I’ll be months from now, but I’m excited to see where the journey takes me next! Here’s to another year of more milestones and progress to come!

NEWS:

Just in case you missed it, a query critique from me is up for grabs as a part of YA Runs A 5K (hosted by the fabulous Melody Simpson) this year! I was SO happy and honored to offer this, not only because the proceeds go to We Need Diverse Books (so every penny counts!), but also because YA Runs A 5K is just a fantastic event. The critiques I’ve gained for my donations in the past have been SUCH a help to me, so it truly feels unreal to be able to give back in this way as well!

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 10.27.41 AM

In other exciting news, I will be co-mentoring in this year’s Pitch Wars with my good pal, Axie Oh! Pitch Wars (run by the amazing Brenda Drake) is such a huge deal in the writing community, so words cannot express how honored we are to be a part of it this year! There’s not much we can specifically say just yet, aside from the fact that we’ll be on the hunt for amazing YA, and we’re SUPER excited to get the ball rolling  😀 And to further evidence our rabid excitement, we already have an epic team name. We shall now and forever be known as Team Rocket, eagerly awaiting our Meowth mentee to make our power duo into a magical trio.

BOOKISH EVENTS:

So almost immediately after the events I’d described in the last post, I hopped on a plane going to Las Vegas to attend the RT Bookslovers Convention with some of my favorite people in the world: Erin, Akshaya, Maddy, and Katy! After having a blast at RT last year with Maddy and Akshaya (yet another crazy rediscovery from my “ohmygod my blog is a freaking year old!” revelation), coming back with the two of them, and more friends, was seriously the best. We can’t always get together as often as we’d like (is “everyday” too clingy?), but when we do, it’s always a good time…filled with many Disney sing-alongs, Hogwarts House discussions, outrageous food-devouring, and more  🙂

IMG_5353

Of course the only group pic I could find of us is from the last night *huffs*

Even though we goofed off a lot (I’m positive Erin and I were trapped in a state of mindless laughter 90% of the time), we kept to the RT schedule and were at panels and events practically the whole time. Just like last year, the panels were very informative, yet always hilarious. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks Tamora Pierce is the best person to see on a panel because her comments are just HYSTERICAL. I also loved sitting in on the panels focusing on diversity, not just for the insightful discussion on the authors’ own experiences and what people hope to see in the future, but also for the book recommendations and advice on how we as writers and the industry can do better in making strides for more representation, and how to do so with authenticity and respect. Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra, Cindy Pon, and Zoraida Cordova were definitely some of my favorite panelists throughout all of RT, and I honestly can’t wait to read all of their books!

By the end, not only did we get scary amounts of books (thank goodness our packing strategy was on point after learning from last year), but we also met all the lovely authors and new friends! That’s honestly the best part about conferences like these. A lot of times, interactions are made via social media, so to finally put faces and voices to names—and to tell authors, in person, just how genuinely excited you are about their upcoming books, and how their books impacted you/your writing—is pretty priceless. And to update authors we’d met the year before on our progress since then showed us even more how far we’ve come from being those newbies just wandering around RT like starry-eyed babies. But even with one RT already under our belts, the same old hijinks ensued. And laughing. And of course, emotions and crying.

IMG_5354 2

Room with our insaaaane view

IMG_5366

Me, Kat, and Axie! (aka Jessie, Ekans, and James) *Erin is a photobombing ninja

IMG_5283

Take me back to this first breakfast with mimosas, please

IMG_5313

The elevators had mirror ceilings and I got way too excited about it

IMG_5286

Goodie bag room filled with ARCs

IMG_5336

Met my super kind agent sister, Katherine Harbour, author of the Night and Nothing novels!

IMG_5331

The lovely duo, Dhonielle and Sona, signing their AMAZING book, Tiny Pretty Things. It’s soooo good.

IMG_5307

Still can’t get over the incredibly sweet writing duo, Christina Lauren, and how awesome their books are

IMG_5362

Emotions time: telling Renée Ahdieh that reading her book inspired me to keep writing my Pirate Fantasy, and we hugged it out

Even BIGGER emotions time . . .

IMG_5323

Seeing Leigh Bardugo AGAIN and telling her that the story I’d been working on (and had told her about at BTAF 2015) finally landed me an agent. Since Shadow and Bone was my comp and huge influence, I thanked her a thousand times over

IMG_5320

Excited Leigh ( + Excited Assistant)

FullSizeRender 42

By some miracle Leigh actually remembered me, and I promptly started crying my eyes out at the personalization

IMG_5372

Brought home alllllll the books and more

As evidenced, it was yet another successful RT! I’m hoping to maybe attend again next year, as it’ll be in Hotlanta and so much closer to me. While I loved Las Vegas, I do not love the hours it takes to get there. Remind me again why I’m going back  in July . . .

Just kidding. I’m seriously PUMPED for Leviosa Con—because it means more CP time, more books, and more crazy hijinks—and long bookish posts—to come!

Top 10 Books That Influenced Me

Oh my goodness, here goes another tag. Huge thanks to my wonderful writing friend Erin for tagging me because I’ve ALWAYS wanted to post something on this! And another shout out to the lovely people who’ve been keeping up these tags and challenges alive—they’re so much fun to post about, and always remind of the amazing friends and writing community I’ve miraculously fallen into. You’re all wonderful.

Okay, enough mushiness.  Here are the rules as provided by Erin:

1. No two books by the same author!

2. But, you can count a series as one book!

3. Also, this isn’t really a rule, but we’re listing our books in chronologically order, which I think is super cool! 😀

Although I can’t remember the specific ages I was when I read these books (terrible selective memory, FTW) I do have the order, and will always remember how significant each one of them has been to me all for different reasons in shaping the storyteller and reader in me.

So be warned, it’s about to get mighty random.

1. Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne

Actually, I lied. I distinctly remember I was about six when I fell into this series, back in that golden age when we still had quiet “reading time” in class. While all the other kids moaned and groaned about it, I was the shy kid whose head perked up because reading time was the one activity I loved. I didn’t have to talk or answer questions the teacher tried to squeeze out of me. Yup, I was that shy, and reading quickly became the ultimate safe place for my painfully quiet, socially awkward self.

How it influenced me:

I read a lot of whacky mystery books when I was young (a lot of A to Z Mysteries, Goosebumps, Bailey School Kids) which helped me embrace the random and ridiculous. But I will always be indebted to the Magic Tree House series for introducing me to stories of adventure, magic, and history. I adored this series so much that I wanted to build my own tree house just to see if it would actually transport me back in time or to different parts of the world during major historical events. This series tapped into my imagination, helped me see so much of the world I wanted to learn, and filled me with such a craving for epic adventures that has never gone away.

2. Greek Gods and Heroes by Alice Low, illustrated by Arvis Stewart

This piece of work is probably one of the oldest and most ripped up books I own—and it’s not even mine, I stole it from my sister (sorry not sorry). Thievery aside, I started reading it before I could even read (I was absolutely mesmerized by the pictures) and then when I could read, it was like Christmas and my birthday put together when I finally understood what the pictures meant. Thus, I started my unshakeable love affair with Greek mythology.

How it influenced me:

I LOVE Greek mythology, and it’s really all because of this book. It showed me a world of myths and powerful figures, as well as heroes with flaws and gods who were cruel. I wasn’t much for fairy tales when I was younger, only because this book of Greek myths filled that slot for me. My obsession was probably the major reason I took Latin in high school, and is still alive today in my current reading tastes and writing. Spoiler alert: I’m a big fan of incorporating mythology in alllll the places. My top favorites from this book would definitely have to be the tales of Persephone & Hades, Orpheus & Eurydice, and Arachne.

3. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Here comes another series from my childhood that earned me questionable looks from others. I have distinct memories of being so excited to go to the bookstore and purchasing each new one with my parents—and when my parents would ask what it was about, they’d frown at the synopsis I’d provide. They’re definitely not the most cheerful books you’ll ever read—the title is pretty self-explanatory—but for some reason, I was hooked.

How it influenced me:

Even though this series was so supremely depressing in more ways than one, it made me realize that I love dark and twisted stories, and also gave me such an appreciation for enormously resilient characters like the Baudelaire children. Seriously, those kids go through so much traumatic shit in this series—but they are so strong throughout it all, and always emerge as survivors together. Also, when I was little, I wanted to be just like Violet Baudelaire. To see an older sister with the skills of a super resourceful inventor was literally everything to me.

4. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

THIS. BOOK. SERIES.

I remember trying to read this book a lot when I was a lot younger (maybe 7 or 8?), and then putting it down. Again and again, I would try and read it but not be pulled in like the entire world seemed to be—until one day, at around 12 or 13, I really needed the comfort of a good story in my life, and Harry Potter just happened to be staring at me from my bookshelf. From then on, after many devoured pages, I finally understood. It’s crazy to think that I wasn’t as hooked as all of the other kids who picked this up at such an early age, but I love knowing that the Harry Potter series entered my life during a time when I needed it most. Like destiny and fate . . . and yes, I WILL be that mushy when it comes to this series because I am not exaggerating when I say how much this book series changed my life.

How it influenced me:

This series reigns as the books which influenced me the most, hands down. Aside from what it’s brilliantly taught me about life, this was the book series that made me want to aggressively read, reread (dozens of times), connect to characters, and most importantly, write. Being so invested in Harry Potter and the characters opened me up to writing fanfiction and finding such a wonderful escape in the act of writing. As someone who was extremely shy about writing (and just in general), this was SUPER huge to me in so many ways. I know I would not be on the path of writing if it were not for this book series, so I really owe J.K. Rowling everything and more.

5. The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Technically this is a play, but same rules totally apply. When I think of this work, I remember my absolute favorite English teacher in high school who seriously terrified the shy-child in me, yet made me feel so captivated by the literature in our class regardless. I distinctly remember feeling almost haunted by stories like Animal Farm or Dante’s Inferno because she taught them so well. You couldn’t help but have the story just lingering with you long after you had read it. The Crucible certainly had this effect on me.

How it influenced me:

I don’t think I’d ever been SO furious with characters in my entire life than with the ones found in The Crucible. The antics of Abigail and her band of girls-who-cried-witch seriously made me want to punch them all in the face. I was SO frustrated with a lot of what happened, until I realized that having such an emotional response was not a bad thing. It’s an AMAZING thing, and shows your connection to the story whether the emotions are bad or good. With The Crucible, I felt a lot of hatred toward the villains especially. However, reading The Crucible was also one of the first books which marked my love for complex antiheroes and imperfect characters like John Proctor and Reverend Hale. And boy, am I a sucker for antiheroism in my stories nowadays.

6. Once A Princess by Johanna Lindsey

This is when my age definition gets murky. When I was growing up, I didn’t own that many books (libraries forever!) which meant that I inherited a lot of hand-me-downs—some of which were probably not age-appropriate at the time, but hey, a bookworm in need of reading material has to start somewhere. For some reason, my older sister just happened to have a plethora of mass-market paperback romances from the 90s such as Nora Roberts, a variety from Harlequin, and most importantly, Johanna Lindsey.

How it influenced me:

Confession: I love romances, and I’m proud of it. Even though I do relish darkness and messiness in my stories, I also adore my sweet, fluffy romances with guaranteed HEAs for the couple involved. Once a Princess was the first book I read from my sister’s romance novel stash, and since then, it has remained one of my favorite romance novels to date. Not only did this book uncover my love for the genre, but also showed me chemistry between characters, witty banter, and how romance can be as much a fluffy element as it is a huge complication in character’s story and arc.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I remember picking this book up in my high school library, which—no surprise—was my favorite place to hang out. I saw this book on display in the New Releases section and had no idea what it was about. No one had read it, no one was talking about it. I was still on a pretty big romance binge at the time, and no one was more surprised than me that I still picked it up even though the synopsis in the jacket flap had no mention of romance whatsoever. Quickly, I learned that I didn’t need romance to pull me into this book. I started it after school, couldn’t stop reading it until 2am, and bought it for myself the next day just so I could reread it again and force my sister to read it. It was that good.

How it influenced me:

This book series was also another game changer for me. Not only was it one of the first books which introduced me to dystopias, but I also credit it with being the first books to get me into Young Adult fiction and wanting to be a YA writer, specifically. At this point I was still heavily into fanfiction, but reading The Hunger Games unlocked my inner storyteller which could see worlds and characters I started imagining myself. It sparked the idea for my first novel, a dystopian I completed years later and am still so proud of because it is my first original, novel-length work. It also gave me a hunger (pun intended) for more books just like it, and even more books for the same intended audience. There’s so much The Hunger Games did for me as a writer and reader, but most importantly, it jumpstarted my love for teen fiction during the boom of YA and children’s literature.

8. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

This book series honestly surprised me. I discovered it during a time when vampires were more than dead and covers/titles played into my decisions of buying the book or not. This book broke so many rules for me (I absolutely hated how judge-y I was back then—never again! I read alllll the books now :D), but I still picked it up and quickly found out that my “rules” were the WORST. I banished them immediately out of fear of missing out on incredible stories and amazing authors like Richelle Mead.

How it influenced me:

The Vampire Academy series taught me so much about what I love in YA. Before this and aside from Twilight, I wasn’t really into paranormal or vampire stories. I thought I had an idea of what I liked, until I read Vampire Academy which flung the doors wide open and really broadened my reading horizons. Not only was it one of the books which impacted how I approached reading YA and proudly embracing it as a reader, but it also taught the writer in me a lot about chemistry between characters, overarching character growth (Rose Hathaway, man) and how to build a strong, smoldering romantic element across books with obstacles and complications. Reading about Rose and Dimitri DEFINITELY changed the way I now approach romance in my own writing, for sure. After Vampire Academy, I started picking up the rest of Richelle Mead’s books which are also wonderful.

9. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Again, another play, but it counts! I read this a few years back during my study abroad trip to London where I was taking a class on Shakespeare in Text and Performance. I know, what better way to learn about the Bard than to do so on his home turf. No surprise, the class was incredible—but I can honestly say I loved it even more because we read The Merchant of Venice, which was without a doubt my breakthrough Shakespeare moment.

How it influenced me:

Before this class, I don’t think I really understood Shakespeare. To be fair, it’s hard to understand him in general because his language can be very dense and his references and subtext are downright alien sometimes. However, reading The Merchant of Venice changed that for me. I already had my firm love for antiheroes and ambiguous characters, and so Shylock obviously became my favorite whose speeches really hit me in the emotional kneecaps. What truly affected me, though, was just how universal and relevant the themes of this 16th century piece of literature is to today, and how differently the characters can be read depending on the reader’s perspective and take on it. It’s stories like that which really make people think, and certainly made me think—enough to make me sign up for more classes on/with Shakespeare in it where I’d read The Merchant of Venice again. And again.

10. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This book, I distinctly remember reading on the train as I’d commute into Boston for college. I was in a bit of a reading slump and perpetually in the danger zone with my Goodreads challenge, so I decided to mix things up and pick up the graphic novel in my sister’s room (why am I always stealing books from my sisters??) that I was always drawn to. Next thing you know, I’m on the train reading Persepolis, flipping through it because it’s such a fast and engaging read—and all of a sudden, I start crying because of how many emotions each story within this story hits.

How it influenced me:

Not only does Persepolis tell such a beautiful story of the author’s childhood experiences during and after the Islamic Revolution, but it introduced me to the medium of graphic novels that I’ve been devouring ever since. It’s art as a type of storytelling that’s so very different from reading a regular novel, but nonetheless has shown me that all kinds of storytelling are powerful. Reading Persepolis urged me to check out even more graphic novels for my reading pile from the library, which led to picking up what would become one of favorite graphic novels called Saga.

Honorable Mentions (BECAUSE I CAN):

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

This was the first Melina Marchetta book I read which I discovered during a time when I needed it most. Even though I usually read more on the SFF side, I do pick up contemporary and I’m so glad I found Melina Marchetta because her contemporaries are so smart and super powerful. Her books are the kind which have a heartbeat you can’t help but hear as you read. This sort of power led me to devour all of her other contemporary novels as well as her spectacular fantasy series known as the Lumatere Chronicles. To be so captivated by her books and see how seamlessly an author could write such different genres and maintain that same heartbeat was just so inspiring to me as a writer still struggling to find her own style and voice at the time.

Emma by Jane Austen

I wish I could say I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s works to call myself a True Fan, but I still consider myself one even though I haven’t (yet!). Out of all of her works, Emma has always been my favorite story. The titular character also happens to be my favorite literary heroine of all time. No joke. Emma Woodhouse is perfectly imperfect in all the best ways, is often unlikable and meddlesome but I love her all the more for it. When Jane Austen prefaced that she didn’t think anyone but herself would enjoy a character like Emma, I was instantly sold. I seek out antiheroes and antiheroines in books and love writing them into my stories, especially my main characters who I’m now and always unafraid to craft on the more unlikable and messy side. I have Emma to thank for that.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

This book came my way when I was really hitting my YA stride years back. Some of them I thought were good and okay, but books like Daughter of Smoke and Bone and especially Shadow and Bone seriously blew my mind. It carried all of the ingredients I love—it was dark and twisty and had an irresistible antihero I felt wonderfully conflicted about. More than that, I absolutely love the way Bardugo crafted her gorgeous world, how it was just as much a character as the rest of the ones trying to navigate through it. That aspect is a HUGE influence on the way I view my worldbuilding now, especially when it comes to the unusual world of my Pirate Fantasy.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer & Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Yes, there IS a reason they’re together. Normally, I would’ve put this duet in my top 10 but that would’ve seemed unfair to throw them both up there as one unit. But hey, down here, at least I can say I saved the best for last! I’ve put Cinder and Throne of Glass together for one very important reason: I can honestly say that these authors are the ones who made me believe that being an author myself was possible. During a time when everyone thought that trying to be a writer would amount to nothing but disappointment, discovering both Marissa Meyer’s and Sarah J. Maas’s blogs which chronicled their days as young pre-pubbed writers was SO inspirational to me. Their blog posts showed me their stories of persistence and tough skin, querying woes and revision struggles. Most importantly, they showed me how all of that hard work paid off in the end, and is really only just the beginning. Seeing all of their ups and downs along their journeys made their success as authors more than just a dream, but an actual attainable goal when one wants it badly enough. Their stories have influenced and motivated me as a writer for a long time, and continue to give me that little nudge in the right direction as a writer today still. A lot of my determination has been fueled by these ladies, and I can’t thank them enough for it.

Whew, okay, that was long and A LOT. It may not seem like much, but this stressful post took days to write and now it literally feels like it shaved off years of my life. Now I’m going to pass on this sweet and terrible torture of choosing the Top Ten books (or in my case, with Honorable Mentions because I defy all limitations) by tagging my fantastic CPs Maddy and Akshaya!