Friday, December 30, 2011

Dear diary: Deep thoughts from 14-year-old me.

Inspired by Alvina Ling's tweets from her childhood diary, I decided to dive back into my own diaries for some light reading. I chose my freshman year of high school, since it finally got a little variety in the entries, which had previously chronicled the first five years of a seven-year crush (obsession) with a certain boy named John.

Apparently, I was going to write a novel! (Or a "quirky novel-thing.")
I started this quirky novel-thing and I'm so excited cuz I think I'll actually get through this one! Yeah, I know, ha ha ha. But what majorly sux is that I don't have the time to really work on it! (I don't!) Well, wish me luck over Christmas vacay (if it ever gets here). Feliz Navidad.
Yeah, that "majorly sux." And did I think I'd write a whole novel in a one-week Christmas break?

This one, in which I worry about my future life plans, made me smile:
I'm so upset about my future. I wanna be a writer or artist, but what if I'm not good enough? What am I gonna do? You'd say "journalist" but I don't wanna sit behind a desk. I'd be so unhappy. And photography, too. God, an artist/writer/photographer would be great. I'd mainly be a successful writer, with the other two on the side. I'd have enough money to build a house with a lot of windows and my own studio. My job -- I can work at home, so I'd work and be there for my kids. I'll have a good husband. And a dog. Can't forget the dog. Some people think that that isn't possible, my dreams aren't possible. I don't think so. I will prove them wrong. Go, stubborn me.
14-year-old me certainly knew what she wanted! I especially love the specifics -- a lot of windows and a dog.

And this gem, always thinking about religion and my beliefs:
Okay, so I'm questioning my religion again. I'm thinking Buddhism or Wicca. Or a mix. I don't know! Religion stinks. I'll have Donna-ism. What I wanna do. Oh well.
Wicca? Blame my obsession with The Craft.

And I can thank my psychologist father for my tendency to psychoanalyze myself:
I'm such a perfectionist. According to psychology, that's a sign of low self-esteem. I feel like I can't fail. Like I'd disappoint everyone if I didn't get above a 95. Well, everyone has issues.
I wonder how much I've progressed on the internal pressure front...

Then I found a folded-up note from the second half of freshman year that was passed between me and my friend April about something she overheard:
April: This girl was like, OMG do you know that girl Donna who's ranked #1? Well on the weekends, she goes to keggers and drinks!
Me: I'm so proud. My first official high school rumor. I actually kinda missed them. Tear.
I was valedictorian of my high school, and people liked to pretend my life was way more exciting than it was.

Last but not least, from my freshman dance recap, in which I got my braces off the week prior (finally!) and felt pretty for the first time ever:
Everyone was saying how great everyone else looked, but Anthony's first reaction (to me) was, "Wow, Donna, you look really beautiful." That is the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. By the time you read this you'll look at a picture and be like, Oh my God what were you thinking?! cuz my dress will be out of style next year, but I looked awesome.
Side note -- Anthony was a friend, but he wasn't my date. My date didn't appreciate me. Ah, well. And my dress? Black spaghetti straps with diagonal lines of pink sparkles running down it, and the sheer top layer came down below the straight hem in four V-shaped triangles to the front and sides. Yep, classic style.

Anthony and I, because the date wasn't worthy of the scanning effort.
(And oh, frosted tips. You bring back memories.)

I had way too much fun reading through that diary. I may have to continue, considering I have a stack of fourteen of them!

And please tell me I'm not the only one who kept meticulous (and now, hilarious) diary entries all through adolescence! I wrote consistently in mine from age 8 through age 20, I'd say. That's dedication!

Monday, December 26, 2011

What books did you get for Christmukkah?

And who's already started reading?

I asked for and received The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson) and The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater), because I was addicted to the ARCs and just had to own them, plus Revolution (Jennifer Donnelly) because I read so many amazing blogger reviews and wanted to read it myself (finally)!

Plus... I will soon be getting my B&N online order of The Fault in Our Stars (John Green), along with Lola and the Boy Next Door (Stephanie Perkins), which I've been waiting for since I ordered them in September! (Thankfully, I read an ARC of Lola, but I can't wait til she's on the shelf next to Anna!)

Last but not least, I made a library run (since I have a week off work), and I picked up Let It Snow (John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson), The Space Between (Brenna Yovanoff), The Probability of Miracles (Wendy Wunder), Sisters Red (Jackson Pearce), Sloppy Firsts (Megan McCafferty), and Jane (April Lindner).

One problem: What do I read first?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

and to all a good night. Hope your Christmas Day is filled with fun, food, family, and presents! (And cats shooting laser beams from their eyes, like my cat decided to.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No writing, no guilt.

I had quite the stunning revelation earlier this month.

I didn't enjoy writing.

Somewhere along the way, putting my fingers to the keyboard to work on my WIP went from being a fun sort of challenge to a bout of near-misery.

With the exception of three months for my wedding/honeymoon, I hadn't stopped writing seriously since September 2007 -- over four years of considering every spare moment a writing opportunity.

And eventually, my self-induced pressure to create! and create more! and create better! and create faster! turned my life's passion into something I dreaded. (And it made me a crappy writer.)

I lost the fun. I lost the spark, and I didn't even have external pressures (like, oh, agent or editor deadlines) bearing down on me!

I was crushed.

Writing, whether it was short stories or terrible poetry or diary entries or novels, had been my escape for almost twenty years, and I had somehow ruined it for myself.

It was time to take drastic action.

I decided to go on a cleansing diet of sorts. No more writing. And I wouldn't begin again until I wanted to. There was no impending date of return, no ticking clock. And I scaled back on social media -- bye bye Blogger, ta-ta, Twitter.

I needed to fall in love with writing again.

I needed inspiration.

Going back to the things that made me love inventing stories in the first place was the key. Reading great novels and planning trips to new places (Montreal, Australia, and the Blue Ridge Mountains), watching addictive TV shows, spending time with friends, and just enjoying life was more refreshing than I could've imagined.

I didn't miss the guilt.

For months now, if I chose to use my spare time to do anything other than writing my novel or a blog post, I felt like a failure. Like I wasn't dedicated enough. Like I would never get published. Because writing takes HARD WORK, so if you aren't ALWAYS WORKING HARD, you won't succeed.

(Did I ever tell you guys how intense I can get?)

Lifelong overachievers like myself are quite awesome at building up soul-sucking levels of internal pressure. To a degree, that motivation is a positive thing. Too much, and you turn your life's passion into torment.

The good news? My de-torment-ify-ing experiment worked. It's been a handful of weeks, and though I never really stopped thinking about my novel (I'm a writer through and through, after all), my fingers are starting to itch for the keyboard. (Hence this blog post.)

So if you find yourself in a black hole of writing despair: It's ok to take a break. It's ok to walk away from the computer for days at a time. Life is not about absolutes. It's not all-or-nothing. There's nothing wrong with taking a step back every once in awhile. Remembering why you started writing in the first place. Reviving your motivation.

For the first time in too long, I'm anticipating that feeling you get when you can't sleep because words are buzzing around in your mind, in your dreams even, begging to be written down.

When you count down to the next time you can sit at the computer and type type type until your foot falls asleep and your back is stiff and you're so in the zone that Pandora has to ask you if you're still listening.

When you stare at an unmoving cursor for an hour until you finally have a breakthrough and discover that you've fixed the previously unfixable.

I miss that.

I'm almost ready to begin again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Girls Jacob Black Should Have Imprinted On

This holiday season, all over the world people will be unwrapping gifts. Some of those people will be us, hoping that hardcover book for which we didn't have the money to spare will be underneath.

But some of those people just might be vampires.

And some of them might secretly be wolves...
So forlorn. If only he had an awesome new girl to crush on...

...secretly hoping to find an awesome new girl from YA literature to imprint on.

Sure, the FNC could have brainstormed together and come up with our own list of holiday recommendations. But what would be the fun in that?

What better way to recommend a book than to find out who Jacob would've imprinted on if he wasn't stuck with in love with Renesmee?

Below, check out...
The Five Girls Jacob Black Should Have Imprinted On
(but are definitely too good for him!)

1) Lola Nolan from LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins

Listen, Jacob. Sure, you think you want Bella, with her blinking and her almost-dying, but what you really need is a girl like Lola. She's a fashionista to the max--she might even inspire you to start wearing clothes! She'll get you out of your dad's house and into the real world. Maybe she'll even help you realize your secret dream of becoming a rock star. And her friends are cooler than yours.

2) Princess Elisa from GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson

It's time to upgrade. Why waste all your wolf charms on a girl who only sees the sparkly things in life? What you need in your life is a princess. Princess Elisa to be exact! She loves good food--and you need to stop eating rabbits in the forest. Plus she's super smart, and could give you some awesome advice about how to wrest control of a wolf pack from a tyrant leader.

3) Karou from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor

Maybe you need some more adventure in your life. Sure, turning into a wolf and running your own pack is awesome, but don't you want to see the world? Aren't you feeling a little Belle-at-the-beginning-of-Beauty-and-the-Beast? Isn't there so much more than your provincial Forks life? Then you should definitely start making wolf eyes at Karou. She's a world traveler! She has blue hair! And she could fetch a fair price for those big, shiny molars of yours...

4) Puck Connolly from THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Are you growing tired of constantly fighting with the vampires all the time? Do you ever just wish there was something a little more exciting to protect your land from? Then Jacob, it's time to pack your bags and ferry over to the Isle of Thisby. You think vampires are tough? Try the capaill uisce. Yeah, that's a flesh-eating water horse. And if that's not tough enough, try your charms on Puck Connolly. She's a fierce as a water horse and as loyal as a real horse. You thought trying to keep up with Bella-with-a-death-wish was tough? You haven't seen anything yet.

5) Tris Prior from DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

Jacob, perhaps your issue is you were born in the wrong genre. I mean, sure, you transform into a wolf and you like to rip your shirt off in anger, but maybe paranormal romance just isn't a match for you. Maybe it's time to try something else...dystopia, perhaps? Tris Prior would be happy to help you find your faction. You don't mind jumping off moving trains onto the tops of buildings, right?

But seriously, these were easily some of the best books I read this year, so if you're looking to give some awesome YA books as presents this year, check these out!

So, who do YOU think Jacob Black should've gone for instead?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friendly Encouragement: Buy From a Local Bookseller Today!

In the past, we here at the FNC have provided for you a book-buying guide for your holiday shopping, in which we recommend some of our favorites in various categories. While we didn't publish one for you this year, we always encourage purchasing books for holiday gift giving. Books really are great gifts. This year, in addition, consider visiting a bookstore for those books rather than buying them online.

Why this out-of-the-blue public service announcement?

It's in direct response to a promotional that Amazon ran a few days ago. See the details of the promotional below, as they are paraphrased on The ShelfTalker blog:

The promotion: quite simply, to walk into any store, take a picture of the item with the price with your Amazon price checker app, and get $5 off on that item when you order it from Amazon. You’re allowed to do this three times on Saturday.

So, Jeff Bezos has decided or at least approved this scheme that all bricks and mortar stores should be visited, left empty-handed so folks can shop on Amazon while giving them price info from other stores. Wow. The thoughts I’m having about this promotion cannot be printed here. If I weren’t so riled up, I’d be despondent at such a horrible attack on stores. Perhaps folks will go to chain stores, and not arrive at small, independent stores, scan a QR code and leave.

A promotional like this one hurts our bookstores. Not only that, it takes advantage of them. Booksellers keep the shelves stocked with books ready to go home with us, but Amazon would have us go in, browse the shelves, use the booksellers' expertise, then walk out empty-handed.

Now, I am not opposed to shopping online. I do it, too. And I buy from Amazon. It's a good source for many things, especially for niche books and films. Believe me, as I plan the new course I am teaching this spring--Australia in Film and Fiction--I have turned to Amazon more than once to acquire hard-to-find resources.

But I shop at bookstores, especially local bookstores, as often as I can. I love bookstores. The colorful covers, the rooms full of words and ideas and stories, the helpful and friendly staff who also care about words and ideas and stories. These are just a few of the things that make bookstores so special. Bookstores also pay sales tax, employ community members, invite authors to visit, donate to schools, host story-hour, and generally keep reading alive in their communities.

So, I encourage you--buy from a local bookstore this season. Let's help keep our local booksellers around!

Happy Shopping and Happy Reading!

PS: Thanks to Grace Lin, whose recent blog post alerted me to this.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


'Tis the season to celebrate...

Candy canes. I mean, they're EDIBLE TREE DECORATIONS. So if I have a hankering for peppermint, it's like, "Oh, look, let me choose from my CANDY TREE." (If only candy grew on trees, but for a couple weeks, I can pretend.)

A real Christmas tree, that makes my living room smell all pine-y, and pine-y is the scent of happiness. (Especially when I remember to water the tree.)

Lights everywhere! But only the white kind that doesn't blink, because I am a purist, and colored lights and blinking lights and LED lights (and God forbid, blinking, colored, LED lights) are sacrilegious.

"Oh Holy Night." Specifically, the Mariah Carey version that makes me tear up every time.

Christmas candles. And the food-scented ones.

Secret Santas. Gifts are fun, but secret gifts are funner.

Appropriately-timed Christmas music. Like when you're decorating the tree. And prepping for holiday guests.

Poinsettias, specifically when they wither in a cold car and then magically re-bloom to full gorgeousness in a warm house. (And they last FOREVER.)

Laughing about the horrendously ugly ornament you made when you were five, plus all the other ornament memories you think of as you hang them.

Sipping hot chocolate while snuggled in a cozy blanket. Ok, that's not Christmas-y all by itself, but oh wait, I'm swirling a candy cane in my hot chocolate. And wearing a Santa hat. So there.

Watching kids go nuts over mall Santas. Either they're super excited to sit on the lap of a sweaty, fat man dressed in a red suit, and you have to smile at the innocence of it.... or they're freaking out about sitting on the lap of a sweaty, fat man dressed in a red suit, and you have to laugh at the poor parents.

Those gigantic tins of multi-flavored popcorn.

When you find strong tree branches for all your heavy ornaments.

That one gorgeously-wrapped present (with, like, a fancy fabric hand-tied bow and a sprig of holly), that's so pretty and perfect, you almost don't want to open it. Almost.

Celebrating other holidays with friends of different faiths. Spin that dreidel!

The house that decorates like it's in competition with the North Pole, complete with all 8 reindeer and a sleigh and accompanying Christmas music.

A full church for Christmas mass, all decked out with poinsettias and wreaths and lights and a giant manger scene.

Generosity. The real thing, the antithesis of Black Friday. Toys for Tots, the radio and TV stations that pay for servicemen and women to fly home to their families, the Christmas dinners donated for those in need, and everyone wishing each other happy holidays.

Finding the absolute perfect present for someone. (Bonus points if it's on sale.)

Classic Christmas movies.  Home Alone, Frosty the Snowman, Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Christmas Story (marathon!), A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life...

Special holiday stamps. Thanks, USPS!

Decorating my very own Christmas tree!!!! (The inspiration for this post.)

What are your favorite Christmas things? And that Christmas song you could hear a million times and never get tired of? And your favorite Christmas--or other holiday--tradition? Leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More Lessons From Failing NaNoWriMo

Last year, I tried to do NaNoWriMo. And I failed. And I wrote this post about the lessons I'd learned from failing.

This year, I decided to do Nano again, and I really had high hopes for what I could accomplish. After all, this time last year my husband and I had just bought our first home, and we were in the midst of getting inspections and picking out paint colors and packing up our entire lives. Now, a year later, we were settled into our home and I would have no other outside distractions...right?


Sort of.

The first week of November, I managed to stay mostly on pace. And I thought--foolishly--that it would be smooth sailing from then on, and now, in the beginning of December, I'd be sitting here with a finished novel and my editing pen in hand.

Turns out, making a room go from this to "man cave" takes a lot of work. 

But of course, then life got busy. We started finishing our basement. Coaching for swimming started. And life just kept getting in the way!

So, now here I am, and how many words did I write in November? About 12,000 altogether. Y'know, just a few thousand shy of 38,000 short.

But I did set some other November goals, back in this post.

My two, smaller-than-50,000-words goals were to:

1) Keep writing even if a point came when I knew I wouldn't make it to fifty thousand words.
2) To try my best to write three times a week.

In those goals, I did a little bit better. I didn't always write three times a week, but I definitely devoted more thought & energy to my writing than I had in past months. Which meant even when I knew there was no way I was going to hit 50,000, I kept working and I tried not to get discouraged.

Also, and perhaps most useful of all, I learned a lot about how I work best as a writer. I always prided myself on being a pantser. When I would send a chapter to the other members of the FNC, they'd email back and say, "What happens next?" and I'd go, "Oh, y'know, stuff...something exciting...or something..." because the truth was I didn't really know. I'd always had a beginning, a climactic moment and an ending in my head, but that was pretty much about it. Because it was about the journey! The excitement of figuring out what was happening as I went! Right?

It turns out...those plotters kind of have a point. I plotted out the last portion of my novel for Nano pretty meticulously--scene by scene, all the way from middle to the words The End.

And the crazy thing was that it made writing a lot easier, especially when I was crunched for time. I didn't have to spend nearly as much time re-reading my own work to remember where I was and what was going on when I stopped writing last time. And the fear that I had would come with planning--that the excitement of writing would diminish, that knowing exactly what was going on wouldn't be nearly as much fun--turned out to not be true at all. If anything, knowing what was going to happen made things more exciting because I could see the story growing my mind with more clarity and completeness than before.

So even though I didn't win Nano, or come close, I did learn some valuable lessons about goal-setting and plotting. Which is kind of a win in itself, if you think about it.

What about all of you? Did you win Nano by hitting 50k? Or win it in another way?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SKY by Jaclyn Dolamore

Thanks to Good Choice Reading Arc Tours, I spent last week reading Jacyln Dolamore's BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SKY.

Have you guys read it? Even though I was on the arc tour, it's out now. Look! Buyable!

And you should definitely buy it.

Why, you ask?

 Let's start with the Goodreads summary, so you know what the book's about:
"For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alander, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alander band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air."

Y'know what? I kind of don't like that Goodreads summary. Let's get a few things straight here.

First off, when Esmerine's sister Dosinia (who everyone calls Dosia) is found missing and assumed to be on the mainland. Esmerine isn't sent to fetch her, she chooses to go. And that's why Esmerine was awesome. I have this weird thing about mermaids--I love them. I totally wanted to be Ariel the Little Mermaid when I was six years old. And the fact I dyed my hair red in high school definitely didn't have anything to do with her amazing floating 80s bangs...right? But I've had a hard time finding YA mermaid books I like. My issue falls in that I think it's a difficult creature to work with--I've read books where their siren call causes men to die for them, and then they are le sad and so tortured. And I've read books where they don't want to be part of the sea and are le sad and tortured, until a man saves them. It's hard not be a damsel in distress when you're half fish, it seems. Which, back to my original point, is why Esmerine is so awesome. She's quiet and strong and fights for what she believes in. She loves her family but fights for what she believes in, even if it goes against what they think. She was thoroughly capable of taking care of herself and getting what she needed, and she was a joy to spent the book with. That's the other thing this summary got wrong--she doesn't happen upon Alander, she goes searching for him and finds him. Like I said, this is a girl of action! A girl of planning! She doesn't just stumble conveniently from plot point to plot point.

The other thing I think this summary is missing is that yeah, there's a love story, but it's not quite with the intensity that it makes it sound. Maybe it's just me, but "igniting emotions" seems like a fancy way of saying "instalove" to me. Which is not what happens in this book. Instead, Dolamore spends her time growing Alander and Esmerine's friendship, both through shared memories of when they were friends during childhood and the new experiences they have in trying to find Esmerine's sister. I feel as though the summary tries to epic-ize this book, and even though it has all the elements--mermaids, winged people, romance, a quest of sorts--it's a much quieter and more subtle narrative than that, which I really enjoyed.

The other great thing about this book was the world-building. This book is only 240 pages, and yet Dolamore manages to create a mermaid world, a human world and a winged-person (called the Fandarsee) world without info-dumping or slowing down the narrative at all. Impressive, right? I think the world-building in this book is so successful because the world is explained through the characters, instead of straight narrative. We learn how the Fandarsee are different as we learn who the mermaids are. By learning what the Fandarsee do, we learn what the mermaids don't do. We see Esmerine trying to figure out the way things work in the human world (like going to the bathroom!) and through that, see how it happens in the mermaid world. It was kind of like a mini-anthropology lesson wrapped up in each chapter.

Finally, what I loved most about this book is that Esmerine loves books. Obviously a challenge for a mermaid, right? But it was such a wonderful subplot that plays out so left a huge smile on my face, that's for sure.

If you're looking for a complete, satisfying, fairy-tale esque story to warm your heart this winter, BETWEEN THE SEA AND THE SKY is definitely worth your time!
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