Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vampire Diaries Episode Recaps/Parodies

Each week, when you're finished watching the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries, hop on over to the FNC and read Frankie's hilarious take on it -- part recap, part parody, all FNC. (Post updated regularly.)

Book vs. Show
Ultimate Vampire Diaries Survival Guide

Season 1, 2009-2010
Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: The Comet
Episode 3: Friday Night Bites
Episode 4: Family Ties
Episode 5: You're Undead To Me
Episode 6: Lost Girls
Episode 7: Haunted
Episode 8: 162 Candles
Episode 9: History Repeating
Episode 10: The Turning Point
Episode 11: Bloodlines
Episode 12: Unpleasantville
Episode 13: Children of the Damned
Episode 14: Fool Me Once
Episode 15: A Few Good Men
Episode 16: There Goes The Neighborhood
Episode 17: Let The Right One In
Episode 18: Under Control
Episode 19: Miss Mystic Falls

Book Reviews and Co-Reviews

Every once in awhile, we love to gush about our favorite parts of shiny new novels. And sometimes we like to gush *together*! (Post updated regularly.)

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver
Peace, Love, & Baby Ducks - Lauren Myracle
The Maze Runner - James Dashner

Ballad - Maggie Stiefvater
Beastly - Alex Flinn
Cara Lockwood overview
Deadly Little Lies - Laurie Faria Stolarz*
How to be Bad - E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle
Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick*
Lament - Maggie Stiefvater
Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater*
Storm Glass - Maria V. Snyder
The Body Finder - Kimberly Derting*
The Dark Divine - Bree Despain*
The Shifter - Janice Hardy
The Sweet Life of Stella Madison - Lara Zeises

* Co-Review

Author Interviews and Guest Posts

Debut, veteran, and New York Times bestselling authors. What do they all have in common? They interviewed or guest posted with the FNC! (Post updated regularly.)

Holly Schindler - Guest Post
Maria V. Snyder - Guest Post

Becca Fitzpatrick
Bree Despain
Cara Lockwood
Emily Arsenault
Gayle Forman
Janice Hardy - Guest Post
Jessica Verday
Julie Kraut
Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Kimberly Derting
Lara Zeises
Laurie Faria Stolarz - Guest Post
Maggie Stiefvater
Maria V. Snyder
Maria V. Snyder - Guest Post
Theresa Martin Golding
Zoe Marriott

20 FNC Originals + 09 Real World Recaps = 2009 Must-Reads!

Since this blogging adventure began in April, the First Novels Club has written nearly 200 posts! But before we get all excited about 2010, here's a very narrowed-down list of our most fantabulous posts of 2009 for your reading pleasure.

And they're in pretty categories! (I love categories.)

20 FNC Originals + 09 Real World Recaps = 2009!


YA Character Studies
The Perks of Being a Fictional Character
The Quarreling Couple
* Disney-fied:
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Charming vs. Philip (Disney Princes Smackdown)
Gaston (The Villain in YA)

Plot Studies and Topics
Oh. My. God. - Religion in YA
Rounding the Bases in YA: Kissing, Sex, and Everything in Between
"Once Upon a Time" is SO Last Season...
*You Can Teach an Old Plot New Tricks:
The Hunger Games

General Writing Goodness
Epic Critique Groups
Do you Outline, take this Writer to be your Lawfully Wedded Storyteller?
Quick and Entertaining Inspiration
Saving the Scraps
The Voyage Home: Loop Writing
On the road of writing, avoid the GIANT POTHOLES.


Adventures in Author Stalking
Maria V. Snyder Storm Glass book signing
Lara Zeises Release Party for Stella Madison
Sara Shepard Pretty Little Liars signing
Jay Asher 13 Reasons Why signing
Epic Night in NYC: Kristin Cashore, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, Libba Bray, and SUZANNE COLLINS!!!
AMAZING Weekend: Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, T.A. Barron, Steve Kluger, Justine Larbelestier, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld, and Jacqueline Woodson!

Notes from a Writing Conference...
RUCCL One-on-One Conference Part One, Part Two
SCBWI-EPA Poconos Conference

And last but not least for 2009...

Shameless Self-Promotion
About Us...
*FNC WIPets! (Snippets from our WIPs)
Donna 1, 2, Magnetic Kama Sutra
Frankie 1, 2
Janine 1, 2
Sara 1, 2

(We're also cleaning up our lefthand sidebar, so stay tuned for more posts today highlighting our author interviews and guest posts; book reviews and co-reviews; and Frankie's Vampire Diaries recaps! We couldn't pick favorites, but feel free to tell us yours!)

2009 By The (Semi-Official) Numbers:
4 - FNC members
194 - total posts
17 - authors interviewed/guest posted
14 - book reviews
5 - conferences attended
16 - authors met
35 - books signed
5 - blog contests since September
340 - followers (and counting!)
23,000 - page views since September
1 - mini kits published
1,000,000 - words written (mostly Frankie's)
3 - complete first drafts finished
216 - books read (collectively)
23 - agents and editors met
15 - FNC critique meetings
3 - average length (in hours) of critique meeting
89 - books purchased
... and we loved every minute of it!

Onward to 2010! We can't wait to see what the new year brings! (Did someone say "Query Wars"?)
What's your favorite post or feature on our blog? Any requests for a topic / plot point / character / author / book / etc you want us to cover in the New Year?

Monday, December 28, 2009

In Which I Challenge Donna to Revise!

So last night over at my other blog Frankie Writes, Donna decided to challenge me to finish my revision of my WIP by midnight on January 1st (this was my goal, but I wasn't quite making it happen and so Donna gave me a little push).

I still have 10 chapters to go and finishing this challenge is kind of....well it's going to be a miracle if I complete it. And of course there are stakes involved....

If I complete the challenge, we're going to make a vlog of Donna attemping to bake me a vegan cake-something she's never done before (also she can't bake) and so I'm sure it'll be hilarious--also hopefully tasty. If I don't complete the challenge :( I have to film myself completely acting out a scene from Clueless--like I do all of the dialogue for everyone, voice overs, etc....

SO, I'm here to offer a challenge to Donna in return! Yay!

So Donna (who just recently completed her draft of her WIP) needs to finish revising by midnight on January 5th.

This is tough because Donna just started revisions.

But not so bad, because Donna's rough drafts are really really clean!

So to offer a little incentive and excitmeent...if Donna completes her challenge, I'll perform an interpretive dance of her novel (never thought I'd say this but I hope she fails).

AND if Donna fails...I'm going to videotape her totally acting and singing her favorite scene of Beauty and the Beast--hehehehe! This shall be endlessly entertaining!

Ok so wish Donna lots of luck (because she's awesome and because you want to see me make a fool of myself dancing) but if you really want to see her reenactment of Beauty and the Beast---you know what to do.

Either way someone wins! Someone is entertained and WIPs get revised!!!

Challenge has been issue--now GO!

Twisted Christmas contest winner! And for giggles, Comments By Numbers!

For our Twisted Christmas contest for ARCs of Hush, Hush and Fallen, we asked our entrants to comment with something -- ANYTHING -- festive. And even though Christmas and Hanukkah are over, your answers definitely keep us in the holiday spirit!

Very Official Comments By Numbers:
22 - Time with family and friends
5 - Giving gifts and seeing people's reactions to them
2 - No school / work / homework / deadlines
12 - Books!
2 - Gift cards

1 - The Nightmare Before Christmas
3 - It's a Wonderful Life / "Every time a bell rings, and angel gets its wings."
3 - A Christmas Story / "Fra-gee-lee"
1 - Christmas Vacation
2 - Scrooged / "We don't want to scare the 'Dickens' out of people." *awkward pause then said with exasperation* "The 'Dickens' out of people." *sigh* "Nobody gets me."
1 - "Bah Humbug!"
1 - Four Christmases
1 - Santa Baby
1 - All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth (by The Count from Sesame Street)

3 - Snowwwwww!
11 - Christmas tree / lights / decorations
2 - Caroling
7 - Snuggling with blanket and PJs, possible fireplace involvement

6 - Hot chocolate/cocoa/eggnog
4 - Cookies!
1- Lasagna
1 - Roasted chicken
3 - All of it!
1 - Tamales

AND ... this contest put is over 300 followers! (We actually just passed 350! Squees all around!) Yayyy to Kirthi, our 300th follower! (She's only 13, but her blog, Pages, is pretty darn impressive.)


After nearly 70 entrants and a whopping 160 entries, the WINNER of Hush, Hush and Fallen IS...


(More proof that those extra entries really work!)

We've sent you an email about the win, so please reply with your address within 72 hours to claim your prize!

Rounding the Bases in YA: Kissing, Sex, and Everything in Between.

Step One: Smoldering Gaze.
Step Two: Passionate First Kiss.
Step Three: Super Duper Passionate Second Kiss.
Step Four: Sex.

Um... what?

As much as I love a great romance in YA -- and there are plenty -- I can't help but question the progression of many relationships. Can sex be something that happens quickly in a high school relationship? Sure. Does that always happen? Nope.

There are multiple "bases" between kissing and sex (yes, as an adult, I still think of them as "bases"), but where are they in our novels? Or even in TV or movies? We've been conditioned to understand that, once two people are "meant to be" and all obstacles to their Happily Ever After are removed, the next logical step is the sex scene.

Do some teenagers have sex?
But do they do a whole lot of other stuff before or in addition to sex?
Oh yeah.

* FYI: I'm going to mention a couple specifics in the rest of the post. Nothing gross or gratuitous, just matter-of-fact, but if it's not up your alley, feel free to stop reading!

One reason I think authors and scriptwriters shy away from the "in between"/foreplay stuff is the difficulty of describing or indicating it without being too explicit, clinical, or vulgar. (Writing Magnetic Kama Sutra showed me how tough that can be, except that I actually HAD to be explicit! Plus, notice how I dance around some things in this post.)

We're experts in the "fade to black" (see Breaking Dawn) and the words or phrases used to say that people are doing the deed -- without giving the nitty-gritty details included in adult novels.

But there aren't pretty shortcuts, at least in writing, to hint about oral sex or various fondling South of the Border.

But here's the problem -- that in between stuff? It's a big deal. Teenagers hear about it ... watch porn that includes it ... but don't necessarily know a lot. They'll do it anyway. (Oh, raging hormones.)

For many people, sex in YA novels doesn't seem scandalous or unusual. But the other stuff? Well, there's boob groping; that's common. But what about guys going down on girls? That's an intimate act -- arguably more intimate than actual intercourse -- and it brings up a host of issues for both the guy and girl. I've never ever seen that in YA.

I have read mentions of "touching" below the belt during hot and heavy scenes, but despite plenty of sex-centric convos in YA, no one talks about the other stuff. And in high school, when you don't know something, don't you go to Google, your best friends, or a cool older sibling? I want to see those conversations!

(This also ties in to the lack of masturbatory references in YA -- a topic on which Rhiannon Hart wrote a lovely post.)

On the scary side: If someone's not comfortable with sex, they're pressured or guilt-tripped into doing these "other things" that supposedly don't have the emotional weight or consequences of sex. But they do.

Here's the deal: I thought about this topic because I debated with myself (and Frankie) about scenes in my novel -- one of which occurs in chapter one -- that involve or discuss "in between" things. I felt like maybe I should find a way around them. (After all, my mother will one day be reading this novel!)

But then I remembered WHY I first chose to include "in between" things: they're a part of high school -- even if teens don't do them, they know they exist! But all teenagers have questions or doubts about these topics. Reading about them -- in thoughtful, honest, or funny scenes -- makes teens feel less alone and helps them understand what they're comfortable with, and what they're not.

Will I get hate mail from parents (if this ever gets published, fingers crossed)? Yep. They'll probably also mention how much they disliked my three or four well-placed f-bombs. (Lisa and Laura Roecker wrote a great post about that one! And Rhiannon just did too!)

But my duty as a writer is to be true to my readers and to my story. And so it stays.

Your turn!
Have you read novels with "in between" stuff? How do you think "the bases" and such should be approached, if at all? If you're a teen, what do you want to see in YA?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Writers? Neurotic? Surely Not!

I hope all of our readers are enjoying the many end-of-the-year holidays and looking forward to 2010! Personally, it scares me that the decade is ending, as I still have a clear memory of being at my then-boyfriend's-now-husband's house playing glow tag (yes, we played glow tag in high school) and watching the original Matrix (probably on VHS...) to ring in the new millennium. (Can you tell how cool we were?)

I'm big into gift-giving, which means this particular time of the year is both awesome and super stressful for me. I love/hate running around the mall, trying to find a parking spot (my record this season is driving around for 45 minutes before getting one!) and then standing in line, hoping I've found the perfect gift for each person.

I'm big on finding the perfect gift. Even if I know what I'm getting someone, I obsess over the little things. Here's a perfect example--I bought my husband two sweaters this year. Why two, you ask? He certainly doesn't need two. We have a closet full of sweaters, and he doesn't have a huge color palette, which means all his sweaters of various combinations of blue/black/grey/white (maybe a little red stripe thrown in here and there.)

The reason I bought him two sweaters was because I couldn't decide between the two. One was blue and hooded, and the other was a black and grey stripe crew neck. They both had their merits--he likes blue, but on the other hand he also likes black and grey. He loves wearing hoodies, but he also has many crew neck sweaters. But which one was the perfect sweater? Now that was a conundrum. And in the end, I bought both, because I figured if each one on its own wasn't perfect, then I'd at least hit all the bases by buying both.

Now this is an example of my own personal neurosis, but I think it extends, in a way, to many writers. Do you want something to be purple or violet? Or aubergine? Or eggplant? Or royal purple? Or lavender? Or indigo? Or orchid? Or maybe it should actually be magenta, or fuschia... you get the idea. Sometimes being a writer is all about being neurotic, because it DOES matter if your character is wearing a violet shirt or a lavender shirt. And a million other little details that changes a novel from just a story to something truly unique and interesting.

And sometimes, the details that matter are the things with which we write, rather than the actual story. And that's what this post is actually about.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Sara. And she liked to write. One day, she thought, I think I shall write a novel. And so she began. She began on a computer with Windows and Microsoft Word (odd details, but they shall become important later.) And she wrote several pages and then said, oh no, writing a novel is quite hard, I'll just play computer games instead.

And time passed.

Then, much later, she took a graduate level children's writing class in which she needed to submit a story. And lo, she had no story! So she did as all good writers did, and dug deep into the depths of her hard drive, and it brought forth several pages of a long forgotten novel. And it was good.

She received a good grade, which she expected. What she did not expect was that the novel would not leave her alone. It entered her thoughts at unexpected times. Its characters spoke to her, their siren call leading her fingers to her keyboard. And the girl thought, perhaps I shall write a novel once more.

But the novel was tempestuous, and did not write easily. It fought with the girl. The characters changed their minds and the plot refused to come forth.

And then, one day, the girl's computer became ill with a virus. And it died. Thankfully, the girl was able to salvage her hard drive and all that belonged to it. She put all of her files on a brand new, sleekfully black Macintosh computer. And she thought to herself, I shall not worry my mind with any more Microsoft products, and bought iWork instead.

The novel continued, using Pages rather than Word. But there was a problem.

Word looked like this:
And Pages looked like this:

It should not have mattered to the girl, but it did. She said, I will learn to use Pages. I will learn to love its off-center layout.

But she could not, and her novel stalled. While her characters appreciated the girl's commitment to non-Microsoft products, they did not wish to be off-center. And so, the girl bought Microsoft Word.

And it was good.

The moral of the story is, writers are neurotic. And that's okay.

Happy New Year, everyone! :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Kiss Blogfest and Happy Holidays from the FNC

Hey Everyone!!!

Just wanted to wish everyone of our readers a Happy Holidays (Happy Belated Hannukah, Happy Kwanza, Merry Christmas, Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Winter Break, Happy I-survived-the-snowpocalpyse, Happy New Year). We've been a little bit slow with posting due to holiday craziness, end of semester catch up, and the exciting news that Frankie, Janine, and Donna are prepping for Query Wars and finishing the final touches on our WIPS.

We do have a few exciting posts planned for you, but things will return to their usual pace after New Years.

In the mean time, check out The No Kiss Blogfest at Frankie Writes.

Writers all over the blogosphere will be participating sharing scenes from their WIPs, scenes they just wrote, or scenes from their favorite books, movies and TV shows that show the almost kiss-- the rising, crushing, excruciating, longing tension that comes from when two characters get oh-so-close to kissing that you can just feel it....and then...they don't!

Writers and readers alike can participate--so come by Frankie Writes to get more info and sign up!

Enjoy the holidays, stay warm!!! (Our southern hemisphere readers should have no problem with that.) You guys are AWESOME!!!

And super thank you to Sara at The Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler for awarding us with this!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Release Day The Dark Divine by Bree Despain!

Bree Despain's amazing debut The Dark Divine is in stores today! Run out and get your copy-you will not be sorry--this was one of the FNC's favorite books of 2009!

Check out our co-review of The Dark Divine HERE!

Check out our interview with Bree Despain HERE!!!

WIN an arc of The Dark Divine HERE!!!

Congratulations Bree! Happy reading everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh. My. God. -- Religion in YA ('Tis the season, after all!)

How many times do teen characters say "Oh my God" in novels? Or OMG. Or the super duper emphatic "Oh. Em. Gee." (Look how much a pause does to increase dramatic tension. I heart punctuation.) But rarely -- and I mean RARELY -- do we ever get a peek into the actual religious beliefs of a character.

It's as if most YA novels are permanently stuck in "Happy Holidays" mode. Some generic belief in God has an implied existence in every character's life, but not a whisper concretely exists.

Obvious Exceptions Off the Top of My Head:
(Meaning these Exceptions came from 5'4" above the ground. 
Not the tallest Exceptions, but you forgive me, right?)
Christian novels:

Novels about the daughter/son of a preacher/minister:

Novels centering on / mourning a death:

Novels about religious confusion:
(This was the cover when I read it!)

Last time I checked (about 10 seconds ago), 95% of Americans believe in some sort of deity or higher power. 83% believe specifically in God.

[I actually looked that one up! (And not on Wikipedia.) Go me!]

Are there novels that mention a character's religious affiliation? Sure.

But here's what I don't see -- characters going to a church / synagogue / mosque / temple. Or even mentioning that they're going. Or praying, like, at night. Or before meals. (Oh wait, they don't eat.)

Did I miss the memo? Is religion one of those things that's supposed to be assumed? Like how characters poop? (Not that we need to see those scenes, but honestly, if they didn't, many more novels would be set in a doctor's office with intestinal-centric plots.)

This is what concerns me though -- belief or non-belief in a higher power is intrinsic to who your character is. How they operate in the world. In fantasy, especially, religion is a key part of world-building.

I'm not saying that a character should go to church in every single novel. Or throw in a well-placed "Funny you should say that. I was reading the Bible last night..." But there's no way that NO ONE goes to church. Even if it's only because their parents force them. There must be some characters for whom religion is a tiny bit active in their lives. And high school is all about questioning and testing the BIG THINGS in life -- authority, sexuality, and smoldering gazes religion. So shouldn't religion be sprinkled in? I'm feeling untapped potential here.

What got me on this topic?
1) I spent 12 years in Catholic school, so religion was a big part of every (week)day in my teen years. (God and I had a very straightforward relationship, but Catholicism and I? Ohhhh it was complicated.)
2) I recently realized that I'd one of my characters, June, was pretty dedicated to Judaism, but in nearly 100,000 words, I never once hinted to her attending synagogue.

Books that don't fit into my Exceptions categories but do, in fact, incorporate religion/beliefs naturally in the plot:
Nya believes in the Saints, but she definitely questions them.

New Moon
Edward doesn't want to turn Bella because he believes that vampirism damns your soul to hell. Bella soooo does not care.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Mary has grown up with the Sisterhood ruling everything, but when her mother becomes Unconsecrated, she questions her faith in God and everything she's ever known.

Here's one thing I'm afraid of --- everyone's so concerned about being politically correct and appealing to a wide audience that they just leave religion untouched. Notice that all my examples were fantasy -- where's religion in the real world?

Hey, one example!
How to Be Bad
Jesse is a devout Christian, which causes tension in her relationship with her best friend.

Or is religion just a nonissue for most teens?
Or am I overthinking this?

For me, the jury's still out on the topic. The one thing I'm sure of -- even if religion NEVER appears on the page, every author needs to know what his/her characters believe. Religion appears a couple times in my novel -- mostly for June, because it's a source of tension in her family. Maddy, on the other hand, doesn't have religion as an active part of her life at all. Nina's somewhere in the middle.

I'd love some opinions! Would you object to more religion in YA novels, if it were included in an organic way? Are you including religion in your novel? What are some other examples of religion in YA, especially in realistic fiction?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sara's Two Year Anniversary FNC Sneak Peek

Here I am to finish out our two year anniversary celebration extravaganza! It's crazy to think that we've been doing this for two years--or even that I've been working on my novel for two years. I'm a write-a-few-chapters-and-chuck-it kind of person, something I've wanted to do multiple times with this WIP. But this wonderful group keeps pushing me and keeps me going, no matter what.

Today I'm posting a portion of the prologue of my YA Fantasy, which is STILL untitled. My first WIPet that I posted back in September came from the second chapter of my novel, and gave you a look into one of the subplots in the book--my MC Aranelle vs. villainous Rankin. This time, I'm giving you a look into what is (hopefully) the main plot of the my novel--political corruption and rebellion.


Prince Roderick paced the palace library. Yarrell, his attendant, should have returned over an hour ago--what could be keeping him? Roderick’s lips curled back into a snarl. A low growl traveled up his throat and crawled from his clenched teeth.
The Prince worried a ring on his left middle finger, twisting it first one way, then the other. He slid it up to bump his middle knuckle and back down again. The movement of the ring revealed the skin underneath--pink and chapped, unaccustomed to being suffocated by gold and gems.
It was the King of Llanmery’s ring, and until Yarrell returned, Roderick did not know if belonged to him. It all hinged on his plan being successful.
The clomp-clomp of heavy riding boots echoed outside the room. Several moments later, the main doors of the library opened. Yarrell walked towards him. He still wore his leather riding pants and jacket, and his crossbow nestled against his back.
“What is the word?” Roderick asked. He pushed his hand through his greying hair. The design on the ring caught and tangled with several of the strands, pulling them from Roderick’s scalp. The corners of his mouth turn up at the sensation.
Yarrell smiled. “The word is good, my lord.”
“Then she is dead?”
Yarrell hesitated. Roderick prompted him again. “Answer me,” he demanded.
“Yes. Your sister is dead,” Yarrell said. Roderick smirked. His dark eyes twinkled in the low light with a mirth that made Yarrell look down to his boots.
“And her husband, and the child?”
“Are not to be found, my lord. Her Ladyship of Meriden searched and searched and found nothing.”
Roderick stopped twisting the large emerald ring on his left hand. His lips pulled back into a wide, twisting smile. He ran his tongue over his yellowed teeth, pausing on his right canine, which turned perpendicular to the rest of his teeth.
“Then I am your King. You may bow to me.”

Why I Write:
I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't love to write. When I was about nine, my parents bought me this computer program--which for the life of me I can't remember the name of--but it included pictures to jump start story writing (a kitten being saved from a tree, a book with legs walking through a library) and I think that was what really got me hooked--realizing that not only could I write stories, but I could write stories that brought interesting images to my mind and other peoples' minds. Plus, I love it. I love that crazy feeling of having your characters talk in your head, when they tell you what they're doing and stop listening to what you want them to do. I love that I can write a story about a made-up land and made-up people and that someone could read that and relate to it, even though they're just a regular teenager in the modern world. And I love that feeling when you read a good book and it ends, and you just want to turn to the beginning and start it all over again.

Thanks for tuning into Sneak Peek Week #2! If you missed our earlier WIPets, please check out Janine's, Frankie's, and Donna's!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Janine's 2nd Anniversary Sneak Peek

Happy 2-Year Anniversary FNC! It's been a fun and productive 2 years, and I am so thankful to be part of a group that supports, encourages and pushes me all at the same time. (And I need a lot of pushing!)

To continue our 4-day anniversary celebration, I offer you the final scene from my picture book Ojiisan's Gift. The opening scene was featured during our first sneak peek week back in September. Ojiisan's Gift is about a young girl named Jitsuko, her grandfather, and the mysterious gift he brings to her from his journey to Kyoto. It's about love, friendship and loss. Much happens between the first and the final scenes, and they may seem disconnected, but they really are not--you'll have to buy the book some day to find out what happens in between.


A Scene from Ojiisan's Gift:

Weeks passed and the leaves began to change. Soon it was time for her grandfather to make another journey to Kyoto. When the cart was loaded with paintings to be sold at the markets, it was time to say goodbye.

“Be good for your mother and father and take care—.”

“I know, Ojiisan,” she interrupted, laughing. “I’ll take good care of Obaachan for you. I promise.”

Jitsuko stood in the road with her mother, father and grandmother and waved as her grandfather drove the little horse into the road. She held Obaachan’s hand and watched until the cart disappeared from sight.

Not long after her grandfather's departure, Jitsuko’s grandmother became very sick. Jitsuko’s father sent a messenger to find Ojiisan in Kyoto. He had only just arrived in the great city, but he returned home immediately.

For days, Ojiisan remained at Obaachan’s side. He did not leave her room even to eat. Then, one morning, he emerged from the sickroom and slid the door closed behind him. His face was gray.

He nodded in response to the questioning eyes of Jitsuko and her mother and father, then he sat down on a cushion on the floor. He inhaled deeply and pulled Jitsuko onto his lap. She could feel his wrinkly cheek on her temple. She laced her small fingers through his and counted the blotches of ink that stained his hands.

They sat together for a long time, holding each other close. For some of that time, Jitsuko cried. But mostly, they sat very, very quietly.

That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Jitsuko lay awake. Over the sounds of the night, she heard her grandfather on the other side of the wall. He too was awake, tossing in his bed, sighing. After a while, she heard him rise and shuffle across the tatami floor. He slid his door open and stepped into the night air.

Jitsuko sat up and scooted off her futon. She crept across the cold wooden floor toward her own door that opened into the garden. Her grandfather was standing at the far end of the garden, gazing at the moon.

Jistuko stepped into the garden and walked softly, but the stones crunched beneath her feet.

“Jitsukochan?” her grandfather asked, his back toward her.

“Hai, Ojiisan.”


“It’s okay to cry, Ojiisan,” she told him.

Ojiisan grasped Jitsuko’s hand and nodded, and a large tear slid down his wrinkled brown cheek.

Why I Write?

I love words--their meanings, sounds and rhythms. I love they way that they, when perfectly placed, sing off the page. And I love ideas. I like to think that I have something to say--something to contribute to the world. I also love the nuances that can be communicated through writing--how, through writing, we can view a moment through a microscope and see every subtlety that we miss in real time. And good stories! And tension! All of this just by stringing words together!

Welp...thanks for reading my Sneak Peek Post! Stay tuned for Sara's tomorrow. And, if you missed Donna's or Frankie's, be sure to catch up!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Divine Intervention Contest winner! And the Best Random Comments Ever.

With 70 participants and 135 entries in our Dark Divine contest ...

*** LiLi of ChicaReader ***

[Cue hooting and hollering. Yayyyyyy!]

We asked the entrants to comment about ANYTHING ... and we got everything! (Seriously, we love comments. They make our day.) For a sampling of the awesomeness, I present you:

Comments By (Very Unofficial) Numbers:
(In my head, I heard that in the booming Wizard of Oz voice. Join me?)

The weather was:
1 - Humid (Miami, FL)
1 - Snowing and windy (Canada)
1 - Pleasant (???)

Stop it, you're making us blush. Ok, don't stop.
12 people thought the co-review was funny/ hilarious/ made them laugh
6 people thought co-reviewing is a brilliant idea
10 people said they were "very loyal" followers
4 people said our blog was one of their favorites

Cover thoughts:
26 people loved the cover, and even said it was why they were dying to read the book!
6 people desperately want that famous purple nail polish
1 person mentioned the stick-like legs of the cover model - I agree!

Content opinions:
5 people love the preview chapters on The Romantic Times
1 person was thrilled that TDD had strong characters
3 people love the quote referenced in the co-review (Daniel crush!)
1 person found the religious aspects intriguing

"I can't wait!"
4 people begged to win (sorry, doesn't calculate begging into the equation!)
5 people are terrified of spoilers
3 people want 12/22 to get here sooner
32 people are SO EXCITED to read The Dark Divine!

LiLi, we sent you an email, so respond within 72 hours to claim your prize!

And even if you didn't win, you still have a chance to win our Twisted Christmas Contest for Hush, Hush and Fallen!

For more great reads, check out the FNC's Sneak Peek Week, Round 2 - Anniversary Edition! It's FRANKIE's turn today!

Frankie's 2 Year Anniversary FNC Sneak Peek!

I am SO excited to be working with the FNC-I can't believe that 2 years have already passed and we've all made so much progress! Things are about to get very exciting since Donna, Janine and I are prepping for the Query Wars--btw did you see Donna's awesome snippet from Tuesday?

Ok--so here's mine! BTW anybody who also follows me at my other blog Frankie Writes knows that I've recently been struggling with what to call my WIP--it's gone from The Seven Sisters Brandywine to Brandywine to Rose Lily to STOLEN at the moment.

So here's an excerpt from STOLEN:

----Sorry guys, I've removed this excerpt as I'm going to be querying my novel shortly---

Why I Write?
I write because I absolutely have to, because I feel compelled to, because I have this feeling deep down in my heart and in the pit of my stomach that this was what I was meant to do and because I have this story to tell that came to me in a dream and if I don't tell it I don't think I'll ever be at peace. I write because its the thing I LOVE to do more than anything else in the world. I write, because that's just what I do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two Years of the FNC! Sneak Peek Week, Round 2 (Donna)

This month, the FNC is celebrating two years of critique group awesomeness!

(I have way too much fun using the Paint program.)

I'm kicking off our four-day anniversary celebration, and each day one of us is posting a snippet of our Work-in-Progress (WIPet, if you will). After all, our WIPets wouldn't exist in all their glory without each other! Plus, we're discussing why we write.

* If you missed the first Sneak Peek Week, check out our posts! Sara / Frankie / Donna / Janine 

My novel: MULTIPLE CHOICE, contemporary upper YA
Synopsis: Maddy, Nina, and June have always been til-death-do-us-part, epic best friends. But in their junior year, one sexy secret, two destructive sisters, and three little lies leave them fending for themselves -- and for the first time, they might fail each other.

WIPet Setup: June has fallen for Paul a very cute, very chill senior in her AP Psychology class, but he's totally off-limits because he's the best friend of Maddy's ex-boyfriend -- if they hook up, it's not only a betrayal, but Maddy will also be forced to see her awful ex all the time. June's part-time job is across the street from Paul's, and Paul invites her to stop by the pizza place where he works after her shift. Against her better judgement, June goes.

“You June?” the guy asked in a thick South Philly accent.
She considered lying but then nodded, waiting for the “Paul said to tell you he’s sorry…” speech.
“Paul’s out back. I’m Nicky.”
“Oh.” She exhaled. “Hi. I, um, like your pizza.”
He chuckled. “You Italian?”
"Good." He paused. “Alright, watch me mess with Paul.” He turned to the kitchen. “Pauly! Your girlfriend’s here!”
June smiled, blushing slightly nevertheless. Paul appeared a second later; June had never seen him flustered, and it made her feel better.
“Dude, you could have come back to let me know,” he said to Nicky.
“That wouldn’t have been half as fun.”
Paul managed to look June in the eye. “Hey, um, I’m working out in the alley, so if you want to come…”
“Okay.” June followed him past the counter. They walked by the kitchen, where a couple people were prepping dough for the dinner rush, and then passed through the back door. June found herself facing a dumpster, a small mountain of empty cardboard boxes, and a stack of dirty milk crates.
“Just ignore Nicky,” Paul said. “I mean, he doesn’t know—he’s always like, you know, like that.” He coughed. “So I’m just breaking down all these boxes for recycling.” He grabbed one and seemed grateful that he had something to do with his hands. “The good news is, the wind’s blowing the trash smell away from us.”
June looked around at the otherwise empty alley, feeling very alone with him despite the busy street ten yards away. She began chewing her gum furiously. Oh this is so bad and awkward and horrible, and before was just a fluke, and he probably doesn’t like me at all that way and is terrified that now I’ll suddenly look too much into everything and become his stalker.
“You can sit over there if you want,” Paul said and pointed to an upside-down milk crate covered by a clean white apron.
Oh my God he made me a chair. That's so sweet. Alright June, just try not to melt. Maddy and Nina won’t believe— June froze her thoughts and sat down, wishing she felt more like the luckiest girl ever instead of a traitor.

So that's a little slice of June's story!

As per why I write...
When I don't read and write, I get cranky.

I've been writing since I was six years old -- or at least that's the first time I can remember writing a story. (About a little bird who decided to move out of her family's nest and into her own -- I was an independent first grader!) I kept a journal from third grade through college. Attempted awful poetry in high school. Began and shelved a few novels in between. Went to college and briefly thought I could make a living in journalism, until I realized I hated it. And finally, in my last semester of college, I discovered my calling -- YA. In YA I found my voice and my passion. It's no surprise, since I began devouring YA novels in about fourth grade ... and never stopped.

I love telling stories and creating characters who I want to know, love, and hate. I enjoy letting my favorite characters make awful decisions. Giving them consequences. The power of controlling an entire world of my imagining? Yeah, kind of awesome. I write for myself, because it's a part of me, and I couldn't fathom living without it. I can only hope that one day people will read what I wrote and have it mean to them what YA novels have meant to me.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Day 2 of our anniversary celebration!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Superior Scribbler Award

Thank You Shannon from Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe for our Award! Wooohooo! *Throw Confetti Everywhere!!*

So we must pass this award onto 5 blogs we've been enjoying lately and those are:

Yay! Thanks so much Shannon!!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Interview with Zoë Marriott

The FNC is pleased to share with you an interview with Zoë Marriott. (Isn't her name cool? It sounds like she might secretly be the MC in a story somewhere.) As she tells us on her website, Zoë "was born on a rainy day in April twenty-something years ago." Her first novel, The Swan Kingdom, was released in the US by Candlewick Press in 2007. Her second novel, Daughter of the Flames was published by Candlewick is 2009. I stumbled across a mention of this novel on a random website, and immediately wanted to read it. If you're like me, you're constantly searching for that adventure-fantasy novel with the female protagonist (i.e. Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy, Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore)--and her books were certainly a gem to come across.

Read on to find out more about Zoë's books, what she does when she gets stuck, and why she ignores her sister. :)

1) What was your process like for drafting, revising and completing Daughter of the Flames?
DotF (as I call it) was quite a strange process. After finishing The Swan Kingdom (TSK) I intended to give myself a bit of a break and catch up on my reading, but instead more or less as soon as I submitted TSK another character popped into my head saying 'I never knew my mother's name...' and Zira was born. I knew the story that she belonged in right away, because I had already written a very rough synopsis for a book that crossed the common fantasy trope of 'lost heirs' with a female warrior months before, while still working on TSK. But although Zira wanted to me to get to work on her book straight away, I knew that I wanted to write something set in a quite unique landscape, so I spent a long time reading lots of books about Africa, Tibet and the Middle East and fooling around with ideas about religions and food and clothing and social systems. I drew dozens of maps trying to figure out how I would have mountains and rainforests and cities located in such a way that would allow the story to work. Basically I was just trying to get a hold on that setting. I might have spent a lot longer on my research, but one day my editor (who I was working with on TSK edits at the same time) made a comment to the effect that it seemed like DotF was a story where there was no 'black and white' and suddenly it all clicked together. I began writing furiously and finished the first draft in about five or six months. Then (as I usually do) I put it aside for about a week. At the end of the week I went back to it and went through a printed copy of the ms with a red pen and a fine toothed comb and then transferred all those changes to the electronic file. At the end of another week, submitted it. I have to say, though, that some of my favourite parts of the story NOW are parts which were suggested to me later on, in revision with my English and American editors (the night-time chase across the rooftops in the middle of the story, and Zira's sparring match with Deo after she tells him about Sorin).

2) Your first novel, The Swan Kingdom, is a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Wild Swans. How is writing a retelling different than an original novel? What's the hardest part of writing a retelling?
To be honest, there isn't really much of a difference at all! Other authors might disagree, but I've written four novels (the first one never to be published, the most recent one with my publisher now) and two of those were re-tellings, while the other two were original stories, and I really couldn't point at any difference in the process at all. Of course, that might be because I'm not a very faithful re-teller. I don't see a fairytale as a series of hoops I need to jump through - to me it's more interesting to use it as a jumping off point, and really play around with it. Whether the story is completely original or inspired by a fairytale, I still write my own synopsis and develop my own characters. The hardest part of writing a re-telling is other people's reaction, after the fact. Because The Wild Swans is not a very well known fairytale (not like Snow White or Cinderella, for instance) a lot of people who read TSK got really angry at me because they believed I had stolen the story from another, much more famous author and her very well-known book (also a re-telling of The Wild Swans). My book and this other writer's book were wildly different, but because they had the same fairytale basis of course there were certain similarities - and if you had not read the original fairytale you would not know that those similarities come from Hans Christian Andersen, rather than either of us. Other people held TSK up against that book and found it wanting because it *wasn't* the same. Plus people can be quite protective of their favourite fairy stories, and get annoyed if you change things. The book I just finished is based on Cinderella and I have a feeling I might get some flack because I've completely turned the fairytale on it's head...

3) What were the most difficult and best parts of building the world of the Sedorne and Rua for Daughter of the Flames?
The hardest part of it was starting. I knew what I wanted to write, but I felt I just didn't know enough to write it convincingly - so I ended up getting carried away with research into the Middle East and other countries, reading dozens of books, downloading pictures from the internet, writing pages of notes. Even after all that I still felt that I hadn't 'caught' the world that I wanted to create. But then the urge to actually write the story got too strong and I told myself 'Just write what you want and check facts later'. But at some point as I wrote I began to realise that although all the facts I knew were adding texture to my imaginary world, its true strength came from my imagination. It was okay to make my own decisions on this landscape and it's people, to change my mind about things, to do things that weren't related to the real world. It was okay to create things instead of copying them. When I decided to give the Rua facial tattoos that had religious and practical symbolism, that was a breakthrough moment; and after that it was pure fun. My absolute favourite creation is the summer palace in the rainforest, with the trees and the tamils and the monkeys. I want to go there!

4) How do you come up with character names? What about place names?
For characters, I like to play with real world names; why make something up when you can find so many beautiful real names from different cultures? I'm a little obsessed with meanings - I use baby name books and check the 'Behind the Name' website before I make decisions because I think it adds another layer of meaning to the story. I especially like it if I can use a name which has a strong significance in another culture, but which won't be immediately apparent to most readers. For instance, Branwen in the Welsh myths is a beautiful, doomed Queen - so I gave that name to Alexandra's mother in TSK. In my latest book the heroine goes through three transformations and has a different name in each one, and I drove myself mad trying to find the perfect sounding name with the perfect meaning for each one (especially since the book has a Japanese setting). Making up place names is really fun. I can't explain how it happens. I just know what I need (town, mountain, river) and the name pops into my head. I keep a notebook and sometimes a cool made-up word will occur to me, so I'll jot it down before it escapes and find a place for it later.

5) How did you know your novel was over?
I got to the end! My stories tend to appear in my head as a beginning and an ending, and then the hard part is writing all the stuff in the middle to join them together. I always know when the end has come, because it's something I've been struggling and striving for the entire time I've been working on the book.

6) In your novels, are there any characters that gained larger roles than you initially intended for them?
Ah, this is something that scares me. To be honest, my characters have a tendency to try and do this all the time - you as a reader will be able to tell which ones because they're the ones that puzzle you a little as you read. You think, 'I wish this person had been given a bit more characterisation'. That's because I've savagely cut them out so that they wouldn't take over! Rashna in DotF was such a person, as was Aunt Eiran in TSK. It's a frightening moment for a writer to realise that the story is shifting and warping around what is supposed to be a secondary character - that somehow their backstory is starting to take over. In the past my only way to deal with it was to do that character down. However in writing my last book (not published yet) I had a character that I loved so much I could not bear to do this. I couldn't cut her lines, I couldn't remove her backstory, it was unbearable. And as the story developed, somehow it worked. Instead of weakening the story, or muscling the heroine out, this character made everything better and more alive. So I think this is a sign that my skills as a writer have improved, and hopefully I won't have to strangle anymore secondary characters. By the way, when my third book comes out I bet you will be able to tell which secondary character I'm talking about!

7) When do you know things are working in your writing process? What do you do when you get stuck?
I know things are working when I sit down to write a couple of pages and come back to myself three hours later with cramp in my hand and twenty pages in front of me! It's so fun, and such a rush, that nothing compares. When I get stuck I sulk, whine, read manga, bake and then, finally, suck it up and force myself to get back to work. Usually locking myself in a quiet room with only a block of paper and a pencil (and my iPod) and staring at the paper until I a) pass out or b) write something, does the trick...

8) What advice would you give aspiring YA authors?
Don't search for the super-special-awesome-secret to getting published and becoming a millionaire like J K Rowling/Stephenie Meyer - it doesn't exist. People email me all the time asking me how they can get published, but in fact they ALREADY KNOW. You work hard, you finish your book, you revise and re-write it until it's as good as you can make it, and then you get hold of the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook or the Writer's Market (and there is some variant of this in every English speaking country in the world) and follow the rules laid out in it about submitting a manuscript. You repeat this (ignoring the rejections) until you finish your next book and then you start all over again. That's all anyone can do. Eventually, if you're talented, persistent and professional, you'll get somewhere. If you give up you never will.

9) You explain on your website that you both write and work a day job. How do you balance the two and find time to write?
It's a matter of priorities, and of putting your foot down. If you're not a full-time writer (and most writers aren't) your friends and family and office colleagues, no matter how nice, will just not get that writing is 'work'. I've got two books in print and have spent every spare minute writing for the past ten years, and people STILL don't get this. My friends still ask me to come out when I'm on a deadline and say, 'Awww! Just one night can't hurt!'. My mum still calls me up on my days off (when I've told her I'm going to be writing) to ask how to spell 'frustration'. My sister still makes snippy remarks about how I ignore her. As far as most people are concerned, those bits of your week that aren't spent in an office (or whatever place pays a salary) are 'free', and anything you do then is a 'hobby'. So, basically, you need to get used to being the bad guy. To saying 'No' - and keep on saying it until people realise they can't make you blow off your writing anymore than you can blow off a day in the office. It's really hard, and you will feel bad. A lot. But if you don't say 'No, I have to write five pages before the weekend, so I can't see you until then, goodbye' then, believe me, those five pages won't get written. Because someone will want you at the weekend too, and next week, and the week after.

10) Which authors have inspired you the most?
Suuuuch a hard question! The short-list has to start with Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley. Re-reading Tamora Pierce's books is what made me realise I wanted to write for young adults. Diana Wynne Jones inspires me, as does Megan Whalen Turner, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Garth Nix and Terry Pratchett are on the list too. Everything you read inspires you in some way, I think (even if it's to think, 'Wow, at least my writing could never be as bad as that!') so there's probably dozens more I'm forgetting at the moment.

11) Lastly, you're stranded on a deserted island for five years. What five books would you want with you?
For purely practical reasons, the first one would be something by Ray Mears (the prominent survivalist) or I wouldn't last five minutes. Other than that - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, an omnibus collection of all the Abhorsen Books by Garth Nix and an omnibus collection of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. And don't tell me that's cheating!

Thanks so much Zoë, for taking the time to chat with us!
For more information on this awesome author, check out her website, and of course, read her books!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harry Potter 7 MOVIE TEASER!

Need I say more?

(You might need the Shockwave Player to view properly.)


FNC Writing News Brief: And two years later, I finished my novel!

Monday night, just before the stroke of midnight, I typed "The End."* Multiple Choice is complete!

[Minor dance party.]

Because I'm about to dive headfirst into the chaos that is revision -- and then headfirst again into the terror that is querying -- I'm taking a moment to bask. Join me?

... Basking ... Basking ... Basking ...


Considering that two years ago I'd never finished more than three chapters of a novel before abandoning it, this is a big deal. Writing isn't a quick process for me. I deliberate in my mind for minutes sometimes before moving on to another sentence.

The Good News: My first drafts are pretty tight.
The Bad News: My first drafts take two whole years.

Brief Timeline-y Goodness:
Months 1-6 (12/07-6/08) --- Turned my first three chapters from short stories into actual chapters that formed the basis of the entire novel. (Reading chapter one still gives me heartburn, even though it's beautiful now.)
Months 6-18 (6/08-6/09) --- Wrote chapters 4 to 9, which finished off the first half of the book. Helloooo, snail's pace.
Months 18-24 (6/09-12/09) -- I wrote the final nine chapters, 10 through 18, between June and now. Drastic increase in writing speed? I think so!

Now that I'm all done basking in the glow, here's what I have: 18 chapters; 99,497 words. AKA at least 20,000 words too many, according to most publishers. (I'm keeping all the chapters.)

My revision plan?
1. Outline the whole thing so that I can see the big picture, then revise via those notes and all the notes I've left myself throughout the writing process.
2. Re-read the fifty or so revision-related blog posts I've bookmarked, to open my brain to all I need to be thinking about. (If I follow your writing blog, you're probably included in this list, so thanks for the inspiration and excellent tips!)
3. Read my novel as a novel, instead of as a bunch of chapters. Revise on various levels -- character, plot, pacing, voice, etc.
4. Send to betas and revise via their notes.
5. Do the obsessive, nitty gritty "Should this be 'moves' or 'pushes'? A period or a comma?" revision.
6. Read it aloud to myself. Revise again.
7. Hopefully send to a couple last betas...
... and then maybe, just maybe, I can start sending it to agents. My goal is February.

(Oh, did I mention I'd also be creating a gigantic agent spreadsheet with all the details and info on the agents I want to query? Plus perfecting my query letter and synopsis.)

Yikes. On second thought, maybe I should've delayed writing that ending.

Anywho, since typing The End achieved a huge goal of mine, here's a lovely relevant link:
The wonderful -- and super-productive -- Maggie Stiefvater posted yesterday about smacking 2010 around with her New Year's Resolutions. If you want some inspiration, go read it!

I Want To KNOW!
What writing (or general life) goal are you working towards? Any achievements lately we can help you celebrate? (We love any excuse to celebrate!)

*I totally only typed "The End" because I needed to commemorate the momentous occasion. It felt so official! No worries, it will be struck from my Word document at some point.
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