Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Recommendation: Lindsay Ribar's THE ART OF WISHING

Let's face it, when I think of genies, I totally imagine the gigantic, blue Robin Williams-type "genie.... of.... the..... LAMMMMMP!" from ALADDIN.*

And so does Margo McKenna, the main character in Lindsay Ribar's THE ART OF WISHING. But then she meets Oliver, a non-blue, non-cartoon genie, and all of her genie stereotypes go out the window.

Well, not the "three wishes" rule. But most of the other ones.

Description from Goodreads:
Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie's ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn't know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else's hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie -- he's also a sophomore at Margo's high school, and he's on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.


THE ART OF WISHING is charming, romantic, and entertaining. Of course, there's the requisite drama (otherwise, there would be no plot, and who wants a snoozefest of happy people being happy?), but it's an enjoyable book that becomes serious when it needs to ... and since there's an uber-bad villain who's out to kill Oliver, the second half of the book is much darker than the first. Overall, though, it feels way more "contemporary-with-magic" than "paranormal romance."

My favorite element of THE ART OF WISHING was the main character, Margo. She's practical, self-confident, talented, and as secure as you can be in high school. But of course, she can get tongue-tied around her crush, because who doesn't? She's quite the planner/control freak, something I find particularly endearing, since I'm known to be a wee bit like that.

Ahem.

I also liked that Margo is an introvert, but in a very authentic way—not because she's socially awkward or doesn't connect with people, but because she prefers to surround herself with a smaller group of friends and is perfectly content with her outgoing best friend organizing their social lives.

Margo unwittingly becomes the master of Oliver, our non-blue genie love interest. Oliver is a nice foil to her because his entire life is about ceding control to others, never knowing who his next master will be or what wishes he'll have to fulfill. (And yes, this can get pretty grim.) But he embraces the unexpected, and a lot of his relationship with Margo develops around him teaching her to do the same.

And of course, we need to talk about the kissing! Basically, it was a lot of fun to watch Margo squirm every time she remembered that, thanks to Oliver's genie magic, he could read the "wants" from her thoughts ... and more and more of those desires centered on him. That's not at all embarrassing...  Thought the book, I found the genie lore and magic intriguing, and we got a nice taste of Oliver's life as a genie, as well.

FYI: Lindsay Ribar totally sold me on THE ART OF WISHING. I met her at the Teen Author Festival after hearing her speak at the Born this way: Nature, nurture, and paranormalcy panel. Lindsay was funny and engaging, and from the way she described her novel, I knew I'd like it. I was right! It just goes to show (again) how attending bookish events can introduce you to novels you may not have ever read otherwise.

So if you're in the mood for adding a little magic to your life, definitely check out THE ART OF WISHING. It's available now!

Bonus note for musical theater geeks: Lindsay has a long history with musical theater, and a lot of THE ART OF WISHING is centered around Margo's role in Sweeney Todd, her high school's musical. It doesn't overwhelm the story (for those of you musical-averse), but it's a big part of Margo's life, and her passion for singing is woven throughout the novel.


*And because I couldn't help myself....
(skip to 1:03 for the epic introduction)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Seven TV addictions I credit to the YA blogosphere

Last night, I binge-watched the final 15 videos of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and I realized that, once again, I could credit my rabid fandom to the YA blogosphere.

I constantly read blog posts and tweets and witness real-life squeeing over incredible TV shows, and eventually, I just need to know what all the fuss is about. So I watch. And become addicted.

Tallying it up, you guys have peer pressured me into watching SEVEN different TV shows. (Do you know how many hours that is??) And I regret not a single one.

What can I say? You guys have excellent taste.

Now it's time to pass on the peer pressure, in the order I caved to each show's greatness.

1. Firefly
A longtime Whedon fangirl (from Buffy-the-movie to Buffy-the-TV-show to Angel and Dollhouse), I knew I had to quiet my "Sci-fi/Western what?" reservations and give this show a try, especially considering how rabid the fans are. It wasn't love-at-first-episode, but it didn't take much past episode 2 to fall in love with these characters and remember that EVERYTHING that Joss Whedon does has the best dialogue ever. (Including Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog.)

2. Veronica Mars
Oh, Veronica. Once you adjust to the oh-so-telling monologues, you'll fall in love with this sassy outcast-with-a-zoom-lens. For a much more in-depth love letter, check out my Open Apology to Veronica Mars. Needless to say, I own all 3 seasons and donated to the VM movie Kickstarter the moment I heard about it.


3. Sherlock
Surly, brilliant, socially ignorant British men, how I love you (and your sidekick). That is all.

4. Awkward.

I'll credit this addiction solely to the ladies at Forever YA, who got me hooked halfway through the first season. Anyone who loved Easy A will find Awkward's shenanigans totally entertaining. I'm gearing up for season three this Tuesday!
 
5. Downton Abbey
I started Downton after season 2 ended, but the only reason I didn't start when I first heard the Season One gushing was that I just knew I'd fall in love, and I didn't have the time to get addicted. Basically, I delayed my obsession for more than a year, and then I let the first two seasons take over my life in December. It was wonderful.

6. Game of Thrones
Like Downton, the rest of the world has caught up on the awesome that is Game of Thrones, but I heard about it from the YA world first. I started watching last year while I had free HBO for three months, but this season marks the first time I've ever paid for a premium channel subscription (*shakes fist at cable company*) ... and it's totally worth it.


7. The Lizzie Bennett Diaries
Lizzie, oh Lizzie. This genius adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was everything I hoped for. P&P purists may scoff at the modern times and American actors, but it was done so, so well. I didn't begin until it was almost over, and I caught up by watching 1-2 hours of episodes at a time. The episodes only get better as LBD progressed. Loved it!  
 

Addictions I already had
(but would have acquired otherwise):
Buffy
My So-Called Life

The one that got away:
Friday Night Lights
I tried the first three or so episodes .... and I just wasn't hooked. FNL fans, should I try again? At what point did you fall in love?

My TBA (To-Be-Addicted) list:
Dr. Who
Freaks and Geeks
............................

Spill it! What addictions do we share? Anything I should add to my TBA list?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On kickboxing, inventing holidays, and showing failure who's boss.

My life has been delightfully filled with non-bookish things lately:

Kickboxing

I'm totally fickle about exercising. Yes, I enjoy a four-mile walk on a gorgeous, 75-degree, sunny day, but during the other approximately 348 days/year, I feel ZERO inclination to work out. Then I discovered kickboxing a few weeks ago. I'm still very, very new, but something about putting on boxing gloves and pummeling my (protected) opponent or whaling on a bag just clicked. What does that say about me? I have no idea, but I love it!

Action shot of me kickboxing.
(Thank goodness for blurry faces, because my expression
doesn't seem so attractive. I'm also totally not protecting
my face with my right hand, which is a big no-no.
Hey, I'm learning!)

Friendsgiving
 
Three years ago, my husband and I found ourselves the owners of a frozen 21-pound turkey that, if we were to tackle it ourselves, would put us in an episode of Man vs Food. We decided that the spring didn't have enough food-related holidays, so we were going to invent one — a potluck homage to Thanksgiving with all of our friends.
Friendsgiving was born. 
We hosted about 15 people that year, and everyone brought a side dish, drink, or dessert. It was mildly chaotic (our house isn't that big), but a definite success. Fast forward three years: Friendsgiving is now up to 25 people, and it's never been more fun.

Conquering baking

Baking has always been a bit of a mystery to me. And by mystery, I mean that I manage to screw up box mixes. I was the self-proclaimed queen of the no-bake dessert ... and I hated it. I'm not the type to accept failure for long, and eventually, I became determined to conquer baking. I've attempted a pumpkin monkey bread (didn't rise properly, but delicious), a red velvet two-layer cake with cream cheese frosting (so moist, but I wasn't crazy about the flavor). Then last Friday, the night before the aforementioned Friendsgiving 3.0, I made a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust ... from scratch. And it was fabulous, no parentheses needed. Baking, I own you!

Not my pumpkin cheesecake, but that's
pretty much what it looked like!
(If you're curious: I used this recipe from Paula Deen, but cut the butter in half, pre-baked the crust for 8 minutes, did a water bath for baking (which added to the cooking time), doubled the spices, and decorated with pecans. And the key to the top not cracking? Mix batter on a slow speed and don't over-beat, stir in the eggs last, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven with the door ajar. Voila!)

So far, spring has been an adventure! But not to worry, I've also been reading, so keep an eye out for more book recommendations to come!

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Write a Novel Synopsis: 5 Tips (Guest Post by Chuck Sambuchino)


(This column excerpted from GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, from Writer’s Digest Books.)

I’ve never met a single person who liked writing a synopsis. Seriously—not one. But still, synopses are a necessary part of the submission process (until some brave publishing pro outlaws them), so I wanted to share 5 basic tips today regarding how to compose one in case you’re query agents or getting ready to pitch at a writers’ conference.

Photo by welcometoalville
A synopsis is a summary of your book. Literary agents and editors may ask to see one if you’re writing an adult novel, a memoir, or a kids novel (young adult, middle grade). The purpose of a synopsis request is for the agent or editor to evaluate what happens in the three acts of your story to decide if the characters, plot and conflict warrant a complete read of your manuscript. And if you haven’t guessed yet, they’re pretty tough to write. If you are indeed putting one together and sending your work out, check out these tips below:

1. Reveal everything major that happens in your book, including the ending. Heck, revealing the story’s ending is a synopsis’s defining unique characteristic. You shouldn’t find a story’s ending in a query or in-person pitch, but it does leak out in a synopsis. On this note, know that a synopsis is designed to explain everything major that happens, not to tease — so avoid language such as “Krista walks around a corner into a big surprise.” Don’t say “surprise,” but rather just tell us what happens.

2. Make your synopsis two pages, double-spaced. There is always some disagreement on length. This stems from the fact that synopses used to trend longer (six, eight, or even 12 pages!). But over the last five years, agents have requested shorter and shorter synopses — with most agents finally settling on 1-2 pages, total. If you write yours as one page, single-spaced, it’s the same length as two pages, double-spaced — and either are acceptable. There will be the occasional agent who requests something strange, such as a “5-page synopsis on beige paper that smells of cinnamon!” But trust me, if you turn in a solid 1-2 page work, you’ll be just fine across the board.

3. Take more care and time if you’re writing genre fiction. Synopses are especially difficult to compose if you’re writing character-driven (i.e., literary) fiction, because they may not be a whole lot of plot in the book. Agents and editors understand this, and put little (or no) weight into a synopsis for literary or character-driven stories. However, if you’re writing genre fiction — specifically categories like romance, fantasy, thriller, mystery, horror or science fiction — agents will quickly want to look over your characters and plot points to make sure your book has a clear beginning, middle and end, as well as some unique aspects they haven’t seen before in a story. So if you’re getting ready to submit a genre story, don’t blow through your synopsis; it’s important.

(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or synopsis needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)

4. Feel free to be dry, but don’t step out of the narrative. When you write your prose (and even the pitch in your query letter), there is importance in using style and voice in the writing. A synopsis, thankfully, not only can be dry, but probably should be dry. The synopsis has to explain everything that happens in a very small amount of space. So if you find yourself using short, dry sentences like “John shoots Bill and then sits down to contemplate suicide,” don’t worry. This is normal. Lean, clean language is great. And lastly, do not step out of the narrative. Agents do not want to read things such as “And at the climax of the story,” “In a rousing scene,” or “In a flashback.”

5. Capitalize character names when characters are introduced. Whenever a new character is introduced, make sure to CAPITALIZE them in the first mention and then use normal text throughout. This helps a literary agent immediately recognize each important name. On this subject, avoid naming too many characters (confusing) and try to set a limit of five, with no more than six total. I know this may sound tough, but it’s doable. It forces you to excise smaller characters and subplots from your summary — actually strengthening your novel synopsis along the way.

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Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
Feb. 10, 2018: Indiana Writing Workshop (Indianapolis, IN)
Feb. 17, 2018: Minnesota Writing Workshop (St. Paul, MN)
March 10, 2018: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
March 24, 2018: Pittsburgh Writing Workshop (Pittsburgh, PA)
April 14, 2018: Michigan Writing Workshop (Livonia/Detroit, MI)
April 28, 2018: Seattle Writing Workshop (Seattle, WA)
June 23, 2018: Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
July 14, 2018: Cleveland Writing Workshop (Cleveland, OH)
July 28, 2018: Chesapeake Writing Workshop (Washington, DC)
August 4, 2018: Florida Writing Workshop (Tampa, FL)
August 25, 2018: Writing Workshop of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
September 29, 2018: Boston Writing Workshop (Boston, MA)
November 17, 2018: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)

Other columns by Chuck Sambuchino
- What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter
- How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel
- Why “Keep Moving Forward” is My Best Advice For Writers Everywhere
- Do You Need Multiple Agents if You Write in Different Genres?
- Building Your Writer Platform—How Much is Enough?
- Getting Specific: What Literary Agents Want to Get RIGHT NOW
- 15 Questions to Ask a Literary Agent Before You Sign
- Crafting a Novel’s Pitch: 7 Tips
- 25 Debut Authors Share Advice for Getting Published
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Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S and ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
    His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING and SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
    Besides that, he is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook

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