10:35 AM

Books Read in 2011 - March

Looks like I was slacking a little bit this month, but I've been doing a lot of writing, which means my reading suffers. Twelve books isn't bad though. : D


A reminder of the rating system:



Outstanding. You need to run out & get this NOW!

Great!

Good.
Meh. I was not much of a fan.

Under no circumstances should you waste your time with this.




Title
Author
Rating
Day of Sacrifice
- Stacey Wallace Benefiel
Rebellion
- Stacey Wallace Benefiel
Kiss Me, Kill Me
- Compilation
The Way of the Warrior
- Chris Bradford
The Way of the Sword
- Chris Bradford
The Way of the Dragon
- Chris Bradford
Young Samurai: The Ring of Earth
- Chris Bradford
Young Samurai: The Ring of Water
- Chris Bradford
Edges
- Léna Roy
Quantum
- Imogen Rose
Equilibrium
- Imogen Rose
Portal
- Imogen Rose

7:00 AM

Book Review - Edges

Welcome to the first reaction and  Q. & A.  session review for KEYSTROKES & WORD COUNTS! Today meet, Léna Roy: author, blogger, mother and avid writing teacher. Read on to learn about her young adult contemporary novel EDGES, and what inspires her to write and what led her to write this story in particular. Be sure to stop by her webpages and follow her on Twitter (links located at the bottom of the review) as well!

EDGES is a powerful young adult story about addiction, recovery and forgiveness.  It was a quick read, pulling me in right from the beginning. I loved that we got two different stories that came together at the end. While it’s just a story and obviously the author can manipulate things to work out, it reminded me how small the world really is and that it’s not so unlikely that the lives of the two characters could be more intertwined than they realized. I enjoyed the familiar city setting for Ava and was able to easily visualize the unfamiliar Moab setting, where Luke sorts out his feelings, through Roy’s vivid descriptions. I would definitely recommend this book to others who enjoy contemporary young adult novels and stories of self discovery and the journey to recovery.


Q. How long have you been writing?

     All my life in some form or another! My grandmother gave me my first journal when I 
    was nine, and I’ve been scribbling ever since! Poetry, short stories, plays . . . but I 
    never attempted a novel until I started writing Edges eight years ago.

Q.  Who or what inspires you to write?
 
My inspiration and touchstone is my grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle. However, I also have the fear of daring to follow in her footsteps! But I don’t have a choice: I must write, published or not. Writing is the way I think. I am also constantly inspired by teaching kids/ tweens and teens. Their creative energy is amazing, and I especially love to watch somebody who doesn’t consider him or herself a writer fall-in-love with writing. Watching these kids walk through their own fear blows my mind!

Q.  Is Edges your first novel?
 
Yes! Although the first draft is an entirely different entity from the finished product! I rewrote it several times!

Q.  Did you have to do a lot of research? 

Not a lot, but some. I had to be very careful about referencing Hopi culture and kachinas. I had to bone up on my geography and cartography of the desert Southwest. I have many friends who are in recovery and went to a few open AA meetings.

Q.   Edges dealt with some difficult issues. What made you choose to 
       cover those specific topics?

I was a pretty wild teen myself and then in my early 20’s, saw two friends die of drug overdoses. I went to school to become a therapist, becoming very interested in healing and recovery. I lived in Moab for a year – the summer of 1996 through the summer of 1997, and I always wanted to write about my experience there. In Moab, I started a program for teens in trouble with the court system at Four Corners Mental Health Center. I found that the best I could do was to build trusting relationships with these teens and plant the seeds of recovery. At the end of 1999, my uncle died of cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism.

Q.   What prompted you to write from a mostly male perspective and did you find it difficult as a woman to write a male main character?
 
Luke was based on a boy I had met briefly at the youth hostel in Moab, who was only sixteen, and “living” in a tent. He had been there for months before I met him. And then he disappeared. I always wondered about him. And then one day, about eight years ago, this character “Luke” figuratively tapped me on the shoulder and dictated the first scene of Edges to me. I was compelled to write his story, and had to write it over and over again to get it right!

Q.   Will there be any kind of follow up on the characters (sequel perhaps)? 

I have just finished several drafts of a companion novel to Edges. It is not technically a sequel, but follows two other characters two weeks later. One is Bruno, the ladies man from Edges, and the other is a newcomer to the hostel. Luke and the others become secondary characters.

Q.   Does the Moon Flower really exist or was it based on a 
       real place of a different name? 

The Moonflower is loosely based on The Lazy Lizard Hostel in Moab! That is where I met my husband and the father of my children!

Q.   Do you have any suggestions or advice for readers who may have
       similar problems as some of your characters?
 
If you are dealing with the death of a loved one, please seek family counseling or therapy. If you are feeling sad and depressed, that is appropriate, but it is important to talk about your feelings.
If you think you or someone you love may have a substance abuse problem, you don’t have to be alone anymore. Reach out to others. AA and Alanon are not filled with old men in raincoats! There are many, many young people out there with similar problems. If the “group” thing turns you off as it does many, try not drinking or using for a while. Observe your feelings and reactions. Try to replace your drug of choice with a positive action. (Ava goes on a walk) Many teens I have spoke with have told me that the most effective way to understand about addiction as a disease is when someone from AA or NA came to their school and told their “story”. AA is not for everybody, and people in AA can be annoying (just as they can be everywhere else!) but the statistics for recovery from addiction are grim, and from my years as a therapist and dealing with friends and family members, I believe it is a path that gives the most hope.

Q.   If you had to recommend Edges to a non-reader, what would you say to
       entice them to pick it up?
 
It’s an easy, short read with a colorful cast of characters, full of intrigue, mystery and mess-ups.

Q.   Do you have any works in progress we can keep an eye out for?

I have the companion to Edges ready to send out, and I am also working on a novel about a girl who gets roped into doing reality TV show (based on my own experience! I was on an episode of Into Character – it was a reality show about making movie dreams come true. Mine was Bring it On!)

Q.   Where can fans follow or contact you?
 
I love meeting and interacting with people! I blog four times a week – so everything there is more current than my website. I also have a Facebook page for Edges, where I post music, pics and happenings.
Check out my website,

Find me on my
blog

Follow me on twitter @lenaroy

And . . . EDGES has its own
Facebook page!

12:28 PM

An announcement

After Tuesday's post on choosing what to read based on reviews, I thought it time to inform you all that you will soon start seeing reviews, of a sort, appear on this blog. I've recently joined a blog tour and will be helping others by reading and reviewing their work here.  My reviews aren't going to be the typical discussion of "this is what happens in the story".  I find I get too excited to share information about the book and give away tidbits I should be leaving the reader to find on their own. Therefore, my reviews are going to be a combination of a personal reaction to the story (how it made me feel, whether I enjoyed it, what I liked and didn't like about it) and a question and answer session with the author. I think it's beneficial for a reader to know what prompted the author to write the story in the first place and did they have to do a lot of research or was it based on facets of their own experiences. Doing a Q. & A. also gives me a chance to help promote other works and up and coming projects of that author. Personally, if I like a story, I try to find all I can by that person because I expect to find similarly good work.

If you enjoy the reviews, please be sure to comment on them and give the author some love. I know, whenever I post work for others to read, I'm anxious to see what was thought of it and to see if there are suggestions or questions the readers have.  If you do happen to purchase or borrow that work from the library, please be sure to give your own review or rating somewhere. It doesn't have to be in depth,  every little bit helps.

Also, feel free to comment and make suggestions on the format and the types of questions I ask. I'm always open for feedback!

11:54 AM

Strike out on your own or follow recommendations?

Have you ever walked into one of those mega bookstores and then felt totally lost? So much to see! So much to read! Where does one start? Do you stroll the aisles and look for covers and titles to jump out at you? Do you walk in with recommendations from others buzzing at the back of your brain? It can short out a book lover's mind, not to mention empty their wallet.

How do you go about deciding what to read next? Between my Amazon wish list and my Goodreads emails from friends, I have an on going list of things I want to read but, on several occasions, there will be a lull where I may have books on the list, but they haven't come out yet. That leaves me with the fun chore of finding something else. I say fun because I do think it's fun to browse and find something the peaks my interest, but it can also be quite a chore with the sheer  volume of things that are out there.  That is why I look to the reviews. If I'm clicking through in Amazon and find a title or cover that catches my eye, I'll check to see how many stars it has. If it's got five I will definitely scroll down and read the blurb and scan the reviews to see why people like it. I'll also look at the other books Amazon suggests to see if there's something similar that I've already read.  If there are three or less stars, there's a good chance I'm going to move on and click something else...unless I see there are only a few reviewers and it's one of those 99 cents or $2.99 books. Those things lead me to think it's a new author or someone who's just entering the self publishing scene. That always strikes my interest so I'll read what it's about and be much more willing to give it a shot, even if the reviews aren't stellar.

The occasions where I just pick something up without recommendation or without reading a review are rare these days. That's why I find it's so important to get word out there of your work. Get ARCs to book bloggers, they can rocket your story to success. Take the time to go on Amazon or Goodreads or where ever and give your own ratings and reviews of things you read. Wouldn't it be nice to know you helped spread the word of an amazing book? Perhaps karma will shine down and someone will do the same for you when you get your stuff out there.

1:57 PM

Adding Art

I'm the queen of procrastination. When I should be working on a story, something else is always glistening off to the side of my vision, calling to me. Come! Be distracted! Play with something else! This week, it's been making mock covers for some of my stories. At least I can feel a little less guilty because it relates to my writing and should I ever decide to go the self publishing route, I will have an idea of what I want to use as a cover.  The problem with making mock covers is that if I don't have a source photo that I took myself or an image I drew, it's not something I can ever use in publishing unless I get permission from the original artist. I'm not sure how it works if you take a source image and drastically change it through a photo manipulation program. I'll have to do some looking into that.

For example, the mock cover for my soft sci-fi YA novel, I found an image online of a silhouette of a woman riding a horse. Perfect!...Except the "horses" in my story are called double heads because, well, they have two necks and heads, so I did some manipulation and added the second head. I also colored the sand and added the faded cat eye to represent the Felinian characters that live on the planet. Fun to make, but again, not really my "art", therefore I don't think it's Kosher to ever use for anything but fun.

Now the spoof story I'm working on, Tears of a Clown, that cover is actually an image of myself transformed into a clown. Because the photo is my own, I could definitely use it should I ever decided to self publish it. The only problem here? I don't think I look anything like the main character (I look super mean in the photo and far too old to pass for a high school student). Who knows, maybe I can talk one of my friends into posing for an image to get made into a clown for me if the need arises.
I laugh every time I look at it. I look so mean!

I won't bore you guys with everything I've made, but probably my favorite to date is the cover I made for my YA fantasy story: Embers to Ashes: A destined journey (which some of you may be reading along with!). Again I used an image I found online, BUT I like it so much I may ask for permission to use it, or try to draw something similar myself. Since it's an outline and not super detailed, I may be able to make something I like and get out of the whole begging for use of it bit. I do love how it turned out. So cool!

This is about the extent of my artistic talents as far as relating to my writing goes. I wish I was a good enough artist to sketch some of my characters, but they don't end up looking realistic in the least. Do you find it helpful to draw your characters or specific scenes in your stories to help you describe them better? I suppose I use photographs to an extent. Maybe I should start asking my friends to cosplay characters so I can have a photo shoot. What fun that would be!  Also, if there's anyone out there who'd want to take a stab at some fan art, I'd be your new best friend and pimp it all over the internet!

I do wonder though, if the whole e-book and self-publishing thing is putting illustrators out of work. I've downloaded books with very basic covers that were probably made by the authors, and some with no cover image at all! I know my Kindle doesn't show the covers unless I go look at it, but I like getting an idea for the feel of the book by seeing what the cover looks like. I was also concerned that books which actually contain illustrations within the story might not be converted into e-books, for example, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and Behemoth. When I first read Leviathan I fell in love with the included illustrations that really helped me see what Westerfeld's creatures and machines looked like. Of course I could have just tried to picture them in my mind, but I love that he included them and I think they really add a lot to the story. I was worried that the e-book version of Behemoth  would leave out the illustrations, so I sent a Tweet to Scott Westerfeld and asked. Much to my surprise, he answered me back to let me know that yes, the e-book versions do still contain illustrations, but obviously the hard cover versions look much better. That made my day! I know you don't find many MG or YA books with illustrations anymore, but I hope people realize that it's still possible to have them, even if you're going to self publish an e-book only.


How does art work into your own writing? Covers? Images? Character sketchs?  I would definitely include music into your art scheme since I know many make up specific playlists to go with the mood of their stories. If you've got some, share your work with us!

7:00 AM

What offends you in writing?

As some of you may know, I've been working on a new novel. A spoof on the typical YA romance. You know the story; plain Jane quiet girl suddenly gets noticed by one or two super hot guys in the school and suddenly, they're dating and all ends well. My version involves a girl who wears clown make-up on a daily basis and is chock full of melodramatic behavior, bad jokes and pratfalls. In short, it's ridiculous, but hey it makes me laugh.

I was explaining it to a friend of mine recently who said, "Aren't you worried you're going to offend people, other writers with this?" My response was "Uhh no?"  It's meant to be a joke. Are people offended by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies   or Sense and Sesibility and Sea Monsters ? If nothing else, it's making fun of myself! My first novel, The Other Side has got it's shy quiet unnoticed heroine who catches the attention of the cute captain of the tennis team and student body president. Tears of a Clown, the spoof in question, is supposed to be funny and make people laugh, like those spoof movies they put out all the time. It's not meant to offend anyone or their stories or style of writing.  If someone doesn't like it, I sure as hell won't be putting a gun to their head to read it. I don't even know that I'll put it out there for the masses anyhow.

It got me thinking though. Are there books, writing styles, topics in the novels you read that offend you? Do you boycott an author if they write something that goes against your morals or sensibilities?  I honestly couldn't think of anything I've been offended by, but I'm sure there's something out there that would turn me off. I guess time will tell.

11:32 AM

Writing educates more than the reader!

We all know that being a constant reader helps people learn, whether it's new words, about a culture or religion or some kind of hobby, etc. As an aspiring author,  I find that the more I write, the more I learn too! Not only about the things I may research for the plot, but grammar, dialect, structure and the origin behind words and phrases.

The best tool to teach me (or at least make me curious enough to go researching)? My word processing program. Obviously it alters me to my many spelling mistakes and typos, but often it highlights something that makes me scratch my head. For example, the words: towards and backwards. Turns out those are typical British spellings, not American. Although, when using backward as an adjective, there is no "s" at the end. I suppose if I stuck to standard American English, I wouldn't ever have to worry about whether that "s" should be there or not, but why make life easy on myself?

Colors can be foreign as well! Gray and grey? Which one is right?! Again, it's normally a case of British English versus American English.  Grey or Gray dot com gives us an easy way to remember who uses what:

grAy is how it's spelled in America
grEy is how it's spelled in England

Then there was the schooling on blonde vs. blond. We can blame this one on the French rather than the British. Courtesy of English plus dot com :


The words blond and blonde come from the French and follow somewhat the French pattern. Blond (without the e) is used to describe males, mixed gender, or uncertain gender. Blonde refers to women or female gender. In modern use, blond is sometimes used for female as well as male, but blonde is preferred for female.

Important information when you have blond/e characters!

I've seen that theatre and theater are both acceptable spellings these days (again it's the British vs. the American English) but then there are also those who say theatre refers to the art form while theater refers to the building. I couldn't find hard evidence to back me up on this (just he said she said stuff on Wiki Answers and the likes) but it seems feasible.


Some of the most interesting things I've learned from my writing are the origins behind some common words and phrases.  I was recently editing one of my manuscripts and there was a character instructing another to drink some medicine in "one foul swoop."  I stopped to look at it and wondered "Hmm. Birds swoop. Maybe it's suppose to be one fowl swoop?" I put my Google goggles on and set to find the answer. Oops. Wrong on both counts.  The phrase is actually "one fell swoop" and yes it has to do with birds and it may have been coined by the Bard himself (or at least made more popular) in Macbeth. Super interesting!

With Borders going out of business, I found myself hunting through the shelves in the writing section and found this great book called Why Do We Say It? THE STORIES BEHIND THE WORDS, EXPRESSIONS AND CLICHES WE USE (which I just noticed has no author named but was put out by Castle Books in 1985). While it seems to be missing some I would deem "popular", it has a fairly broad selection from A to Z that are both interesting and often comical. If you have a phrase you'd be interested in learning about, drop me a line in the comment section and I'll see what the book has to say!

I'm sure I'm not the only one learning while I write. What kinds of things have you come across? What has surprised and shocked you? Share with us so we can learn together!

7:00 AM

Are you what you read?

Are you defined by what you read?  If you enjoy King, are you a slightly deranged person longing to live in Maine? If you're a Potter fan, do you run around on a broomstick hoping it will take off? If fantasy is your thing, do you surgically have your ears altered so they look like pointy elf ears? Well...I have seen some people go to that extreme (seriously...Body mod: elf ears. Don't try this at home, mmm'kay kids?), but I think they are in the minority.

You read for entertainment or enjoyment or to educate yourself. So why do so many women get crap for enjoying books like Twilight? Do people think these readers are going to file their teeth to points or cover themselves with raw meat on a full moon and go walking in a wolf populated area? I doubt it, but what I seem to be hearing is that people think women (we're talking those out of their teens or early 20s) are weak and anti-feminists if they enjoy YA novels like Twilight or Hush, Hush. 

"How can you enjoy Twilight when Bella is such a horrible role model for young girls?"
"How can you stomach reading Hush, Hush when it condones the stalking of Nora by Patch?!"

How can I, you ask? Simple. It's called not taking fiction for fact. It's called entertainment. It's called understanding it's just a story and knowing that if such a thing happened in real life, it would be a problem.

I hold an undergrad degree in Comparative Literature and Languages. I spent a lot of time dissecting "classic" works of literature like Faust and Crime and Punishment and Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  When I read for entertainment purposes, I'm not digging into the story to find "hidden" meanings. Does that mean I don't see them? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I do think Bella is an awful role model for young girls (ladies, you definitely don't need a man to survive), and yeah I do feel bad for Nora that no one takes her seriously when she wants to get away from Patch in the beginning, but I get it's just a story. I think it's important to stress to young readers the difference between fiction and real life. Use these stories to teach teens why they shouldn't act like that character or what they should do if they're in a situation like Nora was.

But I digress slightly. To get back on topic, here's my take on why Twilight-esque books appeal to a slightly older crowd of women. I think there are a lot of under appreciated wives and girlfriends out there. They work hard in their careers and with their families and maybe don't get all the thanks they deserve. We all lead very busy lives and occasionally those kinds of things can fall by the way side. Sad, but true as I've seen it happen to friends. Also, there are a lot of single women (The dating scene is rough folks. Consider yourselves lucky if you have someone...) and many don't see themselves to be as beautiful as they really are, so they feel they can relate to the typical plain Jane heroine.  As a plain Jane myself, I can totally understand the appeal of delving into a story where one or two incredibly good looking guys vie for the attention of the shy maybe a little homely girl who is trying to blend into the background. It's fantasy. It's escapism.  It gives them a chance to get away, if only briefly, from the life where they are neglected or lonely. With the headless cover model trend that was going on in YA recently, it's even easier for the reader to imagine herself in the heroine's place. 

There's nothing wrong with being a fan of such stories so long as fan doesn't turn into fanatic. It doesn't make one against women and their movement to be equals, it doesn't make one weak, it doesn't make them immature or unintelligent. It makes them human and wanting to forget their problems for a short period of time and heck, it keeps the brain working to imagine themselves in the story, better than just mindlessly watching television.  Escapism with a book is a much better option than escapism with an illicit substance or worse.

So next time you see a women in the coffee shop or on the train reading a YA novel, don't snicker and think badly of her. Instead, try to catch a glimpse of the blurb on the back cover and see what the story is about. Maybe it will make a good escape for you in the future.

9:27 AM

Editing: How do you know when enough is enough?

As I'm moving forward with the process of cleaning up my manuscript and getting ready to send it out to agents, I have to stop and wonder when is it enough?  With this particular piece, I've gone through with the red pen, did a second sweep directly on the computer, read it several times, had two sets of beta readers (at different points in the editing process). I've had the first five pages and the first few chapters critiqued by a couple of different people as well.

Do I think it's ready? Do I think it's nearing perfection? Nope.  My next move will be to read it out loud. I plan on using my laptop's mic to record myself so I can listen to the play back while following along. That way I can stop and make corrections.  I think this will work best to make sure the dialog flows smoothly and doesn't come off as sounding too cheesy.

Will I be done once those corrections are made? I just don't know! I'm not a grammatical idiot, but I'm also no pro. I've got the basics down pat (periods, commas and capitalization are my friends!).  I know I have issues switching tense, so I keep an eye out for those kinds of things. It's some of the other issues that I'm afraid will creep up on me, like accidentally switching to an omniscient point of view, that will stand out like a huge glaring mistake to people in the business.

I can't afford to hire myself an editor. Not at this point in the game. I have to go with the resources I have available to me:  my own smarts, friends who are grammatical whizzes and a couple of books I have left over from college level writing classes.

At some point I'm going to have to deem it as good as it gets. I know it won't be perfect and I don't doubt an interested agent will want changes made, but I'll do my best to get it to a place I'm happy with before sending it out there.

You're going to have to make that decision for yourself as well. To help you with the process, check out some of these sites. They're recommending some books as well. I'll have to pick them up myself. 

http://bubblecow.co.uk/2010/08/editing-your-own-novel-the-importance-of-self-editing/
http://bubblecow.co.uk/2010/07/tips-for-editing-your-own-novel/
http://www.selfeditingblog.com/

If you have any editing tips that aren't covered in these links that you'd like to share, please do so in the comments section! I know I would appreciate any and all advice as I'm sure other readers here would as well.

7:00 AM

Books Read in 2011 - February

 You can see I found myself a new author this month! Heh. Love her stuff!  Lots of great reads in general this month. Not a bomb among them!

A reminder of the rating system:



Outstanding. You need to run out & get this NOW!

Great!

Good.
Meh. I was not much of a fan.

Under no circumstances should you waste your time with this.




Title
Author
Rating

Going Too Far
- Jennifer Echols
Take Me There
- Carolee Dean
Inside Out
- Maria V. Synder
Birthmarked
- Caragh M. O’Brein
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
- Morgan Matson
Matched
- Ally Condie
The Truth About Forever
- Sarah Dessen
Just Listen
- Sarah Dessen
Lock and Key
- Sarah Dessen
This Lullaby
- Sarah Dessen
Dreamland
- Sarah Dessen
Someone Like You
- Sarah Dessen
That Summer
- Sarah Dessen
Before I Fall
- Lauren Oliver
The Iron Queen
­- Julie Kagawa
Warped
- Maurissa Guibord
Delirium
- Lauren Oliver
Darkest Mercy
- Melissa Marr
Summer of Skinny Dipping
- Amanda Howells
Inevitable
- Jason Letts