Friday, September 30, 2011

Challenge, Schmallenge: Favorite Banned Books

Fact: Tons of books have been banned or challenged.
Further fact: None of them should, something I talked about on Tuesday.

In preparing for today's post, I went through the ALA site to see what books have been challenged in the last seven years. The amount of stupid is staggering* and has me again asking, "WTF is wrong with you people?"

*ahem*

I won't soapbox today, Lurkdom. Or at least, I promise to try not to. Without further to do, I present...


The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling.
Why challenged/banned: One school district claimed it promoted the Wiccan religion**; many others gripe about warlocks and the occult.
What the challengers are missing out on: Harry Potter is a fantastic, well-thought out series where everything comes to life. Rowling created such a vivid world, it's like a master class by reading it. There's adventure and character growth. Oh hell, most of you read it. Praise it in the comments!

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Why challenged/banned: Suicide, oh no! They don't explain that suicide isn't a solution.
What challengers are missing out on: A teaching moment, for one. They could be doing that explaining for the reader and have an actual discussion. From a reading/writing perspective, people are missing out on the social commentary that Lowry's dystopian society illustrates, Jonas' character development, and some fantastic relationships.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Why challenged/banned: The occult, among other things, but basically the occult.
What challengers are missing out on: Besides a great story about family, spiritiuality, and science? A Wrinkle in Time is a feel good story where good triumphs evil. L'Engle has this way of covering difficult to digest topics in a way that's accessible for every generation. You will never get tired of her writing.

The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx
Why challenged/banned: Drugs, drugs, drugs, and more drugs.
What challengers are missing out on: A pretty amusing, cautionary tale on heroin addiction. The title does not lie: what's included in between the covers are the actual ramblings of the Motley Crue bassist during his drug-addled years. It's horrifying and entertaining at the same time.

It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
Why challenged/banned: Don't tell anyone, but it covers S-E-X.
What challengers are missing out on: A simplistic introduction to puberty and all that entails. I don't understand why people think it's okay not to educate kids on this information. Middle School Alicia was freaked out when hair began to show up in places where hair shouldn't be. If she had read this book, she would've understood that she wasn't a freak***.

Is your favorite book banned? Share below!

For more information about Banned Books Week, please go to the Banned Books Week site.


* Challenging Merriam Webster's Dictionary because of oral sex is a prime example.
** It doesn't. At all. If you were to ask me what religion the majority of Hogwarts was I'd say some sect of Christianity, specifically Anglican. It's England, people.
*** Coincidentally, College Alicia read this book and felt MUCH BETTER.
_________
Last.fm hit of the day: Oasis by Amanda Palmer (which contains a lot of material that would be banned in books!)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Post-Apocalyptic Scare Zone

Zombie Thursday! Brought to you by the iPad, so missing graphics for now!

Like most Thursdays, I often have an idea of what to write about earlier in the weekend. But every once in awhile I have to throw aside the idea I was going to work on for something else. Today is one of those Thursdays. I was all set to blog about seeing Night of the Creeps on the big screen, but today on the train, I had this weird flashback to when I was thirteen and went to Six Flags for their Fright Festival over one weekend. Why I had a flashback to that weekend, I'm not sure. It could be that October 1st is fast approaching and I consider that the official kickoff to the Halloween season. It could be that I had zombies on my mind, or maybe just a sound or graffiti jogged my memory. But whatever the reason, let me tell you about one of the most frightening "haunted house" experience I've ever had!

If you've never been to an amusement park Halloween festival, I highly recommend it! Every year Six Flags has "Fright Fest," Busch Gardens does "Howl-o-Scream," and Universal Studios does their "Halloween Horror Nights." If you live near any of these types of parks, go to one this season!

The attraction I went on took place in the channel of the drained rapids ride. October in Illinois is typically very cold, so of course they don't have the water rides going. There was a sign outside of the attraction warning that it was a very intense walk-through attraction and might be too scary for younger children. Of course my friend and I scoffed at this. We weren't going to be that afraid. Little did we know...

The theme of this haunted walk-through was a post apocalyptic setting. While we waited in line, there were tv monitors with fake news reports talking about some sort of nuclear disaster and how average people were beginning to display odd behavior. Basically, people were turning into zombies. Once we got inside of the area, the first girl who came up to us looked like a little girl carrying a dead rat asking us if we wanted to pet her kitten. It might not sound creepy, but it was pretty freaky! From there we dealt with slow walking dazed zombies, roaming gangs of looters, people screaming at us and general chaos as things exploded around us. It was intense!

When you are inside one of these attractions, while they may be scary, there is still a level of personal security involved. The characters are not allowed to touch the guests, even though they may get incredibly close and in your face. And as guests, you're not allowed to touch the cast. Pretty standard rule for haunted attractions. In remembering my time at Six Flags in a controlled apocalyptic setting, this morning on the train I tried to think about how I would behave outside of the rules of the amusement park and normal society.

Yesterday on the train, there was a man sitting across from me who was clearly crazy. He was screaming and yelling at people, signing loudly, and as the trip went on, he was becoming increasingly belligerent and I worried if he may become even more confrontational. Of course if someone started to threaten me physically, I would react equally. But even though he wasn't being physically violent, a part of me really wanted to punch him to make him shut up. Does that make me a bad person? I feel like I perceive a threat and want to react. I saw the same man this morning, but soon after a police officer came up and escorted him away.

So these two situations bring me back to the appeal of zombies and post-apocalyptic worlds. Sometimes, I wish I could have the freedom to live in a world where I could be a bad ass. It's inappropriate to carry around baseball bats or crowbars in our society, but wouldn't it be kind of fun? There would be chaos and death, sure. But also adventure, excitement, uncertainty. It would definitely be more exciting than listening to crazy people screaming at me on the morning commute.

What are some of your favorite haunted house moments? And how do you feel you would react in a real situation? Would you hide and wait out the disaster, or would you gear up and take the fight to the streets? Share your thoughts!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Best Book of September

Every Wednesday, YA Highway asks their readership a simple question to answer on your blog. Once you answer, you link your blog in the comments for other readers to hop on board. This is Road Trip Wednesday.


Today's topic: What's the best book you read in September?

Unlike last month where I couldn't up my book count because of Camp NaNoWriMo, this month I devoured ten books. This has everything to do with the fact my plot ran away from me and I haven't been able to figure it out yet.

80% of what I read was awesome with four or five star ratings. You can see the winners below.


I know what you're thinking, with all this awesome how can a best be picked? So simple. Only one of these got five stars--When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

Blurb from Goodreads:
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it's safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda's mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she's too late.

What I Liked About It: There wasn't a single thing I would change about this book. I loved Miranda's voice. I loved how the story unfolded. I kept trying to figure out what was going to happen throughout, because I knew a twist was coming, but never succeeded in figuring out the *entire* twist. The constant A Wrinkle in Time* references were awesome and worked into the story naturally.

What You Should Know: This book flew into my favorites and I already want to read it again. This novel was reminiscent of A Wrinkle in Time in so many ways, which made this girl very happy. If you haven't read this book yet, get thee to the library.

What were your thoughts on When You Reach Me? What awesome book did you read this month?


* Which you should know has been challenged on an off for years. For more information about challenged books, read yesterday's post.
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Last.fm hit of the day: Liberation of a Giant by A Different Breed of Killer




Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sex, Swears, and Aggression

Credit

If you're a book person, you already know that this week is Banned Books Week. As a writer and book lover, this is an extremely important week because yours truly believes that censorship is crap. Even High School Alicia and College Alicia didn't like the concept. It's one thing if you personally disagree/dislike/outwardly hate something, but it's totally different when you force your opinion down the throat of everyone around you.

(It's not just books that have this problem. Music and film go through the censorship wringer as well, something that sets my teeth on edge.)

When you look at the statistics on why books are banned, it's clear what people have a problem most with: sexual content, offensive language, and violence. The top ten reasons for challenging a book can be broken down into seven categories, which you can see on this super awesome pie chart.

Information taken from ALA's Challenges By Reason 1990-2010 Chart

Sex
Almost twenty-five percent of challenges are related to sex. When I told this to Bestie Danielle she said, "Basically this tells me that the separation of church and state doesn't exist." I'm in full agreement. I also don't have any problem with sexual content in books. Does this mean a ten year old should be reading hookups in divey bars? Of course not. Should the sixteen year old? Depends on the sixteen year old.

Coming from a family where the sex talk didn't happen until I was in college*, I could learn about sex and relationships in the following ways: sex ed in school (which I did), from the highly exaggerated tales from friends (which I did), books and television (which I did). While school sex ed explained the mechanics and the safety concerns, it didn't get into the stuff behind it. Books did that. Books do that.

Swears
The next largest challenge category is offensive language. This encompasses four-letter words, racial epithets, and that Lord's-name-in-vain thing, but people tend to think about the swearing.

As someone who loves the f-bomb, I have no problem with swearing. When I hear a toddler curse, I fight off the giggles because there's nothing funnier than hearing "shit" come out of a three year old's mouth. Am I advocating kindergarteners to give the bird? Nope, but I also think it's ridiculous to challenge a book because there's one too many swears, especially when you have kids reading Stephen King and others as early as middle school.

While there are some books that use these gratuitously, there's a lot that can be said by a well-placed word. In talking with Danielle about this today, she pointed out the issue of the republished Huckleberry Finn and the dropping of the N-word**. With the dropping of the word from the original text, parents and teachers are missing a teaching opportunity. It's important to have a conversation about the historical context and how that word isn't used anymore and why.

Aggression
There is a lot more violence in fiction now than when I was in school***, which I think is a good reflection on society as a whole. The local news on any given night covers robberies, shootings, war, and terrorism more than they cover the cutesy stories about the corgi who mothered a squirrel.

I don't condone violence, but my writing, at times, includes it. It's part of the human condition. We've all had the "Argh, I could kill him" moment and isn't it nice to know that someone else experiences the same thing? Exploring the darker parts of the human condition is another important teaching opportunity.


It goes without saying that not all subject matter is appropriate for all audiences. As adults, we know what we're comfortable reading. Parents of small children know their kids well enough to pick books that are within the comfort zone for parent and child.

The problem arises more when dealing with middle and high school curriculum when the book selection includes more "questionable" content. Coincidentally, this is the same age group that is introduced to the harder hitting topics like sexuality and violence. It makes sense that adults want to protect children from these issues, but the head-in-the-sand method isn't the way. We shouldn't ban books that are a gateway to honest and open discussions on tough to talk about topics; we should welcome them with open arms for what they stand for.


For more information about Banned Books Week, go to the ALA website.



* Yep. You read that correctly.
** Which we both find ridiculous.
*** This might have something to do with becoming more widely read or just paying closer attention.
_________
Last.fm hit of the day: One Way or Another by Blondie

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Great Book Reorg of 2011

Back in the spring of 2010, I admitted that I have a book habit. Now in the fall of 2011, I'm here to tell you it hasn't improved. With the demise of Borders, the addiction grew worse. The combined TBR pile morphed into 4 totes full of unread books.

Houston, we definitely have a problem.

So a few weeks ago, Hubby finally agreed to the Great Book Reorg of 2011. Every book was stripped from the shelves* and unloaded from totes until we were able to see everything**. The amount of books we had was sort of disgusting because we knew we weren't going to read a lot of them. It had turned into hoarding.

So we went through the process of brutal honesty on what we were going to read, reread, and not. If they were books we borrowed and weren't going to read them, they went into the "return" pile. If they were books bought on a whim, they went into the "resell" pile. The resell pile currently stands at 3 large grocery bags and 2 midsize boxes. Books we were going to keep got put into totes, totalling 3. I catalogued everything we kept.

Our final book count is 600+ books***.

So what does 600+ books look like?
Like this. 

Hardcover and over-sized paperbacks,
which is already 4 books lighter.
The White One demonstrates how the
stored books make a great napping spot.
The mess of our random case is even
worse compared to the Mongo case holding
all our paperbacks and The Dark Tower.


How do you store your TBR piles? Did you have to do a book purge recently? Share below!

* The exception to that was our "random" case that contains a mish mash of crap. We'll get to that eventually.
** That particular process happened in 3 stages across our kitchen table. The White One decided to play nice and leave us alone for this.
*** This number based on catalog alone. This number doesn't include Harry Potter, items on the random case, boxed up books in the basement or at another house, or graphic novels and comics. Once it gets to that point, Excel may break.

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Last.fm hit of the day: Sweden by Rebellion

Friday, September 23, 2011

Oh the Places that I Go


If you follow my Twitter, you've probably noticed the tweets about how unuseful my cats are in terms of writing. That's because I deal with things like this:


Yep. That's them on top of my work. Don't even get me started about them usurping my view of the laptop. Of course, there's also the case of Hubs who has the uncanny ability to come talk to me about something when I'm in the middle of a difficult scene or brainstorming. With these distractions at home, it's amazing I get anything done.

When the home distractions get too ridiculous, I head out. My five local haunts:

Watertown Free Public Library
(c) Elizabeth Thomsen
Watertown Public Library. It's about a ten minute walk from the apartment. There's a cafe. It's quiet. There's free internet. Plus, it's a library. The library has been extremely useful in terms of getting shit done without interruptions. I've plotted NaNo novels and edited the hell out of other novels here.

I'll admit it: I love this library.




(c) Rachel Kenley
A Novel Cafe. Located nowhere near me, but somewhere near one of Bestie Steph, A Novel Cafe is now my default workspace when I'm on my way to meet up with her.

A Novel Cafe is an independent bookstore/coffee shop that has a Borders feel. I spent an entire Saturday there and outlined two novels.


The offices of the Watertown Charitiable Council and Knights of Columbus, Council 155. Don't judge. The office space is used for a total of eight hours a week, leaving all that open office space for yours truly. The office has no wifi, which cuts down on my ditraction time, so bonus. Also, there are multiple rooms I can wander through. No to mention the really odd bathroom set up. I'm not sure what kind of building it was before it became office space, but there's a shower but no legit kitchen.

Oh, and that yellow and red logo on top? That's my handiwork. Be in awe my friends. You know you want to.


The original Chez Gregoire. My mother loves any reason for me to lurk around the old homestead. Sometimes I like the concept of a dining room. It works out. Not to mention there's wifi and free food for the taking. Well, if I feel like carrots, yogurt, or graham crackers, that is.

In all seriousness, the drive to work at my parents house usually happens as a last resort. Usually when I'm there, I do anything but work.

Even with all these great places to go, the best one of all is my original workplace. There's no travel necessary.

Besdides, can you really neglect this cuteness?



Have some great places where you write? Stop by Paper Hangover and play along!

_________
Last.fm hit of the day: Wilderness by Joy Division

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Walking Dead, Season 2


Zombie Thursdays is a weekly feature with guest blogger, Miranda. You can read more about her here.

Hello, Lurkdom! We are just a little more than a week away from October, the most magical and spooky month of the year! I've already started gearing up for my favorite month. My decorations are in their "prep" stages, I'm going to begin work on my costume on Friday, and I'm beginning to schedule when all my favorite horror shows and movies will be playing on television and around the city.

One premier I am greatly anticipating is, of course, the beginning of The Walking Dead, season two! Last season was amazingly produced and executed, but unfortunately with only six episodes. This season promises thirteen episodes which will hopefully take us all the way through Halloween and into the winter holiday season. I'm excited! You all should be too!

It looks like season two is scheduled to start on October 16, so we still have a few weeks. In the time leading up, I highly recommend re-watching (or watching for the first time!) season one. Since there are only six hour long episodes, you should be able to get through them fairly easily with plenty of time to prepare for October 16th. Below is the extended trailer for season two!


Also, as a bonus on October 16th, for those who live in the Chicago area, it is the 25th Anniversary of the film Labyrinth! This movie happens to be my favorite of all time, so I suspect I will be going to the Music Box Theatre here in the city for some Goblin King action, and then heading home to watch some zombie action!

What are you most looking forward to in the Halloween season?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Covers, Posters... Same thing.

Every Wednesday, YA Highway asks their readership a simple question to answer on your blog. Once you answer, you link your blog in the comments for other readers to hop on board. This is Road Trip Wednesday. 


Today's topicWhat are your all-time favorite book covers?

I've talked about covers once before, but some topics just need repeating. The covers below I think would look fantastic poster-sized.

Hush, Hush, Halo, Pawn of Prophecy, Insurgent,
White Cat
, Sunrunner's Fire, A Wrinkle in Time, City of Bones
Out of these eight, my most favorite is the Wrinkle in Time cover. I love it so much that I have a poster of it. Cliff Nielsen's use of colors combined with the depiction of Mrs. Whatsit is breathtaking.


What book cover would you blow up to poster size?


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Last.fm hit of the day: M-16 by Descendents

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Now I'm Feeling Linkified*

The Pie got another award**. This is pretty exciting. When we get an award, it's not only a prize for the blog, but a prize for the blogger. And by prize I totally mean built in blog post.

Kelley at Writtled shared the 7x7 Link Award with the Pie. She's a fellow campaigner where I've been lurking lately***. I like her blog style and reviews so if you're looking for an additional place to lurk, definitely check her out.

The deal with the award is to share 7 past blog articles that fit the superlative given. Then you're supposed to go and read those posts. I'm also to share the award with 7 other people.

(Yep, I totally LOVED chain letters as a kid.)

Without any more delay, I present you with my 7 blog posts!

Most Beautiful: This is hard because I don't write in flowery, pretty prose. I do, however, like to share videos. This one is of an empty beach. Listen to the waves and feel the peace.
Most Helpful: This has got to be a toss up between my task-setting for writers series and the eater's guide to NaNoWriMo****.
Most Popular: The actually most popular post is also the most controversial. So here I'll take the 2nd runner up. Miranda shares several pictures of Hello Kitty in Zombie form in Hello Zombie?
Most Controversial: I'm going to go with Miranda's presentation of Haeckel's Tale. This post drives the most traffic to The Pie and this alone disturbs me. That means people Google things like "zombie sex." Repeatedly. NOTE:  This post contains themes that may be offensive and are not necessarily geared to the 18 and under crowd.
Most Surprisingly Successful: The post on storyboarding and The Room has gotten a lot of hits, many more than I suspected.
Most Underrated: I really hoped my musings on the black band shirt would've sparked some sort of dialogue in the comments, but it didn't.
Most Prideworthy: From Idea to Draft as Described by a White Cat has got to be the one I'm most proud of recently. If you've lurked for a while, you know how much I love The White One and how many pictures I take of him. Even with that, it's still hard to match stage with picture.

Those are the 7 I picked today. As always, the thoughts and opinions of The Pie are subject to change at any time.

Since we're all about platform building right now, I'm passing along the award to 7 other campaigners:
Alison Miller (who also launched a fabulous YA group blog, YA Confidential)
Steph Schmidt
Christine Murray
Shelley Koon
Cally Jackson
Jessica Love*****
Katy Upperman




* If you don't get the reference, please check out this video by Alien Sex Fiend. (Yep, my music is far removed from Top 40.)
** Read: meme.
*** Please note that I lurk a lot.
**** Which is coming upon us hard and fast.
***** Apologies for the misname of Jennifer on 9/20. It's not even like S and N are near each other on the keyboard.
______
Last.fm hit of the day: Angel by Massive Attack

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing with R Kelly: Read On Prompts

Horrible movies. We've all seen them. Some people live for the craptacular*. The stilted dialogue and the horrible CGI make you giddy with glee. You've got your heckle down to a well-oiled machine.

Hate or love them, bad movies do kinda rock. They rock even harder when you can learn from them. If you've followed The Pie for a while, you know that I've shared what you can learn about storyboarding by watching The Room.

Did you can learn about tension by watching R Kelly's Trapped in the Closet?

Yes, you can. Today we'll focus on the "read on prompt."

For those in the Lurkdom who don't know what this means, it's when a scene or chapter ends in such a way that makes you want to read a bit more. The most common version of this is the cliffhanger.

While R Kelly abuses the cliffhanger feature, he does the job of making you want to see what happens in the next scene. (That each scene grows a bit more ridiculous** is a totally different R Kelly writing lesson.) Let's watch Chapter 1 of Trapped in the Closet to see how this is done.


I know, you're in awe of the brilliance.

In this short clip, there are a few places that get you to read on by using the following techniques:

An odd set up. It might not be the strongest way to start off a scene, but everyone needs to start somewhere. The odd set up can help buy you some time with your reader. If it's wacky enough, the reader will want to know how the MC got there. Here, you want to know why the hell he's inside a bedroom closet.

Intrigue. This won't work for every scene or genre, but a sense of mystery can pique your reader's interest enough to get to your next read on prompt. It can be the mysterious loner dude or the fact Susie thinks she saw a UFO. The point of this is to get your reader to TURN THE PAGE. In the above example, the intrique is who is this lady if it's not his wife. Yes, that makes him unlikeable, but you're also a little curious about it.

Mounting tension. Tension or raised stakes are a great way to get your reader to continue on. Even though cliffhangers fall into this category, it can be something small that will affect your character's story enough that we need to know how it goes. At the end of this chapter, we're in a cliffhanger. What's going to happen now that the closet door's open and the gun is out?


Have you seen Trapped in the Closet? What have you learned from it?

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting this blogfest.

* Yours truly is no exception.
** For example, the midget.
__________
Last.fm hit of the day: Get Off Get Out by Anathema

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zombie Caterpillars?? Yes!


Zombie Thursdays is a weekly feature with guest blogger, Miranda. You can read more about her here.

Happy Thursday! Today's blog is compliments of Alicia who shared this gem of an article on the Twitters. We both decided it was blog worthy, so here you go!

You may remember me posting at the start of the summer about a zombie ant fungus... well guess what! There is now a virus that turns caterpillars into zombies! You read that correctly. A virus. It creates zombie caterpillars. Mind = Blown.


According to this article on National Geographic, the virus infects the host caterpillar and reprograms its brain. Normally, the caterpillar will go to the tops of trees to feed during the day, but will then climb down at night to hide. Unfortunately for these poor infected little guys, the virus makes them stay up in the treetops all night where eventually their bodies become so infected and decayed that they die and turn to mush. There, from their high vantage point in the trees, the liquified bodies trip down onto the lower trees and floor and infect MORE caterpillars. Mad genius!

So, what does this mean for humans? Well... for right now, not much (other than it is a bit creepy). This virus, a baculovirus, only infects invertebrates. So, no danger in a human catching it... for now. As we know, viruses are incredibly clever and are constantly adapting and changing. Could it be a matter of time before this virus begins to infect humans? Mankind has already experienced a number of viruses that have crossed over lines to make us sick. Again, the zombie apocalypse may be closer than you think!

Who wants to go see Contagion this weekend? It's sure to be a heartwarming film about viral outbreaks... I just wish there were zombies in it instead of sick people.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Can Write That Again

Every Wednesday, YA Highway asks their readership a simple question to answer on your blog. Once you answer, you link your blog in the comments for other readers to hop on board. This is Road Trip Wednesday.

Today's Topic: What themes, settings, motifs, scenes, or other elements do you find recurring in your work?

I'd love to say that I'm so freaking original that nothing from Story A shows up in Story B because as a writer's it's my job to make sure everything is fresh and unique and non-redundant. However, I can't. Some things just show up no matter what.

One parent is always either dead or missing from the protagonist's life. And when I say missing, I do mean that in a "they've never physically been here" kind of way*. Sometimes both are gone. Project count: 4

The F-bomb shower. Found in early drafts only**, my love for this four-letter word gets showered across all dialogue and exposition. Project count: 4

Blonde girl who is either uber-bitchy or extremely Type A. This might date back to Middle School and High School Alicia dealing with several bitchy blonde cheerleaders. Project count: 2

The fun-loving male friend who constantly cracks jokes. These guys actually end up being so much fun to write that they have a tendency to derail me at times. Project count: 4

Location is set in Boston and the surrounding areas***. I grew up here and with the exceptions of vacations have never left. Project count: 4

Music, in particular rock. More specifically, metal. I listen while I work, write, and walk. I have characters in bands and "with" bands. I have characters argue over the finer points of Black Sabbath and wear inappropriate band shirts. Project count: 3

Do you notice something that you repeat from project to project. Are there certain authors where you notice they have a certain "thing?" Share below.



* The fact that my parents have always been together and in my life hasn't escaped my notice, so I'm not sure where this comes from.
** Though still present in later drafts.
*** This includes side trips to Boston and the surrounding areas.
_______
Last.fm hit of the day: Never Let You Go by White Lion

Blot Spotlight: Read for Relief

Good morning, Lurkdom!

The other week I mentioned Hurricane Irene in passing. I'll admit it was in a very snarky way. That's because right outside of Cambridge and Boston nothing happened, but that doesn't mean Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene didn't destroy other areas. It did.

That's why it's great that Erin Bowman, Tracey Neithercott, Sarah Enni, and Caroline Richmond got together to start Read for Relief.


These auctions are a great way to help and get something in return. You can bid on query and manuscript critiques, ARCs, books... the list keeps on growing.

If you write YA and are in need of some serious crit help, I definitely suggest you go bid on the group critique that me and the other Weekend of Awesome ladies teamed up for. Below you'll find the description that's directly from the site.

6 YA writers and critique partners come together to give you a critique package that will make your manuscript submission-ready.  (NOTE: Manuscript must be YA and ready for critique by March 30, 2012.)

The package includes:

  • 1 query critique: Pam Harris
  • 1 synopsis critique (1-2 page limit): Holly Dodson
  • 1 first pages critique (10-15 page limit): Marquita Hockaday
  • 1 first 50 pages critique: Alicia Gregoire
  • 1 full manuscript (up to 90K words) “in-depth” critique: Katharine Owens
  • 1 full manuscript (up to 90K words) “big picture” critique: Erinn Manack
About the critiquers:
  • Pam Harris is a school counselor by day and YA writer by night. She is a contributor to Paper Hangover and is represented by the lovely Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown, Ltd. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Holly Dodson is Super Mom, YA writer, and eater of many Sweettarts. She is a contributor to Paper Hangover. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Marquita Hockaday is 20-something, constantly reading or writing YA, throwing in time to teach history to our youth (saving them essentially) while stalking the finest literary agents and Hollywood actors. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Alicia Gregoire writes edgy YA fiction while combating the machinations of her two cats. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Katharine Owens is a YA and MG writer, mom, professor, environmental nerd, amateur naturalist, and lover of all things bug. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.
  • Erinn Manack is a YA writer, middle school teacher, and a contributor to The Patch. She’s written five books but has beta read many more. You can learn more about her on her blog and on Twitter.

Bidding ends Friday, September 16th, 2011 at 10:00 PM EST. Click here to go bid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From Idea to Draft As Described by a White Cat

I realized that I haven't talked about the cats recently. If they knew this I'm sure there would be more mayhem at Chez Gregoire*. The reason for lack of cat stories I guess is because the focus at The Pie is slowly becoming more writing and writing life oriented.

But Alicia, I love hearing about your less-than-normal felines.
Aw, thanks. I love talking about my furry children too.

Because you asked and I do love them, I figured it's time to do a representation of how an idea becomes a story a la The White One. I should point out that this isn't an in-depth representation as there are only so many photos that work and so much brainpower to use.


You get a kernel of an idea.

It's just a teeny thing, but it definitely catches your attention. This usually happens when you're involved in something else so you have to look around what's in front of you to examine this HIGHLY INTERESTING THING OUTSIDE THE WINDOW.


This new idea is something GROUNDBREAKING as in "I haven't worked with this subject matter before" and to be honest, it's a daunting concept. You're used to working within your comfort zone.

You continue to examine said idea kernel.



Your idea kernel has turned into a BAG OF POPCORN, which is two kinds of awesome--you love popcorn and you have enough stuff in your brain to come out with some kind of outline.

The "outline" can be a list of character deets and ideas you want to explore, if you happen to be a pantser.



You're writing at a phenomenal pace and everything is so great that everything SHINES. There is nothing you can't do. You're on top of your writing world.

That outline you toiled over? So worth it. That quirky character you weren't sure about works on four thousand different levels. The sorta love triangle is totally unique.






Wait.







 


That sorta triangle or quirky character you were oh-so-proud of hadn't been accounted for in your planning. It's not your fault that your character has a mind of their own and have taken over your draft at an alarming rate. All the other scenes you were excited to write have to go on the back burner because of this messy corner you jammed yourself into.


You have a decision to make: do you go back to what you originally planned or do you solider on with this surprise subplot. No matter which way you decide SOMETHING has to go.

After weeks of deliberation, you decide to continue on with both the surprise subplot and your original plan. After all, it is the first draft. You can include elephant fairies if you want.







Ooo... elephant fairies. (They're scary.)




So you work on your first draft, powering through anymore hiccups. The honeymoon period is definitely over. Even as you complete it, you know that there are plot holes as big as kibble bowls. That's okay. That's why there's revision.

Satisified enough with what you got, you save your draft and let is sleep for a while. If you were smart, you'd do the same.



Then while you let your masterpiece simmer, you get a kernel of an idea...








Are there parts of the writing process that should be more in depth using cats? Let me know!




* The White One does destroy things for a reason. My guess is lack of attention.
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Last.fm hit of the day: Free by Powerman 5000

Friday, September 9, 2011

Summer Literary Recap

Lurkdom, you're officially reading post 500! *throws confetti and glitter* Because of this and the fact that math has broken my brain*, today's post will be short.


I read some fantastically awesome published books this summer**. After having such a reading slump at the start of the year, it's amazing to see how my reading picked up.

Pam raves about Ellen Hopkins and after her and a few other people talked it up enough, I caved.  Crank is cleverly written and covers a serious issue without being preachy. It's understandable why it's been banned*** in places, but you can't discount that Hopkins knows what she's doing. You can read my mini review here.

Everyone who has read Anna and the French Kiss has loved it. At first it made me think that there was Kool Aid in the water. Then I read it. There were both funny and sweet moments. The description was fantastic. Believe you me, I'll be reading it again. Soon. You can read my review here.

This was my first foray into Jennifer Echols' books and I loved it. The copy I had included The Boys Next Door and it's sequel, Endless Summer. It was the perfect kick off to my vacation at Real World Cape Cod. This will be another one I'll reread.


Toted as my favorite read for August, Shut Out totally exceeded my expectations. The characters were believable. A month later and I'm still thinking about this book. We'll overlook the fact that I'm dreading throwing it in the mail to Pam and Quita because part of me wants to reread it now. You can read my review here.

Just like I was late to the Jennifer Echols party, I'm late to the Sarah Dessen one as well. Lock and Key handled a lot of subject matter and did it with grace. Ruby's voice was great and while there were times where I felt like punching her, for the most part she was an enjoyable protagonist. Actually, the entire cast was great.




What was the best thing you read this summer? Head over to Paper Hangover and play along!






* Thank you, day job.
** I also beta read some awesome books, but that's an entirely different story.
*** Here at The Pie we believe that censorship is ridiculous. Being informed is better than being ignorant.
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Last.fm hit of the day: Sarissas by Blackguard

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More Apocalypse Livin'


Zombie Thursdays is a weekly feature with guest blogger, Miranda. You can read more about her here.

Hello, gentle readers! While I am still clinging to the hope that it is still summer, the weather seems to have a different idea. The weather in Chicago has been dropping, and I have been freezing. While I do enjoy autumn and my favorite season of Halloween goodness in October, I'm just not ready for it. I get cold very easily, and I hate shivering nonstop because it hurts my muscles and is all around unpleasant. Hopefully this is just a brief change and the temperature will climb again. Until it does, I have been clinging to the indoors!

Who got to see TLC's special Livin' for the Apocalypse? I did, and it was a pretty interesting (and strange) look at survivalist families. It turns out that, yes, the Survival Doc is very weird and possibly crazy. All the families go above and beyond the normal amount of preparedness that a family should have.

One family is teaching their young children their survivalist ways-- they have them race to put on gas masks and sealed hazard suits. The prize is an ice pop. Another family's grown children confided that they didn't realize growing up that other families did not stockpile food and have fallout shelters in their homes; it wasn't until college that they discovered how different their family was.

Probably the most interesting couple profiled were two friends living together-- Gidget and Jackie. Jackie is a transgender woman (she spent the first 40 years of her life as a man). While her transgender identity has nothing to do with survivalism, it is clear why TLC chose this couple-- they have a unique and fascinating story. Both women regularly practice shooting at the gun range (and they shoot at Zombie targets) and they raise guinea pigs to sell as pets to make extra money to stock up for the coming apocalypse. Gidget also sews children's costumes.

Overall, it was a very informative look into these peoples' lives. While I would not ever consider going to such great extremes myself, I do like how many of these families have adopted a "green lifestyle" and have tried becoming completely self-sufficient. They grow their own gardens, raise their own livestock and poultry, etc. The idea is fantastic! I just find their reasoning to be a bit crazy and unfounded.

If you missed it, unfortunately it doesn't appear as if they are re-airing the show anytime soon. If they update their schedule, I will let you all know! Otherwise, here is a clip from the show of another family's secret shelter in the hills.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time Travelling Tag Team

Every Wednesday, YA Highway asks their readership a simple question to answer on your blog. Once you answer, you link your blog in the comments for other readers to hop on board. This is Road Trip Wednesday.

Today's Topic: What non-YA character would you love to see star in a YA book as themselves?

Confession: I've thought about this topic all day. I've read everyone else's suggestions to see if it would spark mine. (Yours were all lovely BTW - a lot of Harry Potter and two Gandalfs - tons of wizard love.) I finally figured it out with all seriousosity.

Paradoxes aside, I'd like to see a YA that focuses on these two guys during their teen years.

Look: they even have the same expression. It's kismet.
Think about it: they're both time traveling doctors. Can you imagine the craziness that would ensue? Maybe The Doctor taught Doc Brown the phrase "Great Scott!" Maybe Doc Brown gave The Doctor his love of bowties. The possibilities are endless.


What non-YA characters would you want to see paired up as teens?
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Last.fm hit of the day: Built to Last by The Chelsea Smiles


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Swinging Doors

So part of the platform building campaign is challenges. Rachael posted the first one on Monday. The challenge? To write a piece of flash fiction that is 200 words or less that begins with the phrase "the door swung open." Optional parts of the challenge are to make it 200 words exactly and  to close out the piece with "the door swung shut."

Now, if you know anything about me, I don't write short. It's a miracle I tweet as much as I do since brevity definitely ain't the soul of my wit. Because of this, it shouldn't surprise you that it took me three hours to come up with 200 words.

But, I did it. *points to paragraphs below* No title yet, sorry!

The door swung open. The conversation in the media room ceased.

Dusk kept himself poised in the doorway until the shock of his arrival wore off. For the barrage of questions to begin.  Last night’s performance was magnifique. Of course they would want to know more about his inspiration, his motivation…his process.

“Dahlings, I await your questions with bated breath.” He struck a pose for added effect. The camera flashes were too bright and Dusk shaded his eyes from the glare.

A busty reporter in a white mini dress asked the first question. “Why did you modernize The Cask of Amontillado?”

“I was inspired.”

Several questions followed hers and he answered every one. The entire time he kept his focus on the busty reporter. As the questions drew to an end, she closed the distance between them and pressed herself against him.

“What will your next project be?” she breathed against his lips.

A flirty response was on Dusk’s lips, but the reporter’s face aged twenty years. An older woman now stood beside him in a nurse’s white uniform.

“Mr. Dyson, it’s time medication time.” She led him through the common room out into the hallway.

The door swung shut. 

If you liked my flash piece, please be nice and go over to Rachael's blog and vote for me? I'm number 217.

_______
Last.fm hit of the day: Day of the Dead by Voltaire

Hidden Gems Blogfest: The Tower

So yesterday was Labor Day in the US, which meant somebody wasn't chained to her computer. (Shocking, I know.) What sucked about that was I couldn't post my entry for AJ Mullarky's blogfest right away.

But Alicia, you could've scheduled it ahead of time.
I know, but I'm kinda weird in that I don't like doing that. What if I changed my mind?

Anyway.

If you've lurked for a while, you've probably noticed my odd references to hard-to-pronounce rose fields or scary-ass trains. Then again, you might not have. If you're from the camp of "I don't know what the hell you're talking about," you're about to be schooled on one of the best series in the world.


The Dark Tower series has pretty much ruled my life for a while. I totally believe in Roland's cause and identify with more than one person in his ka-tet. Bestie Danielle and I have discussed many aspects of these books over various email chains.

A brief synopsis, courtesy of Wikia:
Roland is the last living member of a knightly order known as gunslingers and the last of the line of Arthur Eld. The world he lives in is quite different from our own, yet bears many similarities to it. Politically organized along the lines of a feudal society, it shares technological and social characteristics with the American Old West, but also adds elements of magic. While the technology of the Old Ones is largely gone from Mid-World, there are still some relics from that highly advanced society. Roland's quest is to find and protect the Dark Tower, a fabled building said to be the nexus of all universes. 
I got to admit that the synopsis does not do the plot justice. There is so much more happening than this. However, I've come up with several reasons for you to pick these books up now.

The Top 9 Reasons You Should Read The Dark Tower
  • It has a perfect blend of western and fantasy elements.
  • Stephen King's worldbuilding is fantastic and encompasses almost every book he has written.
  • The language has an almost-lyrical quality at times--something you normally don't think of when you think Stephen King.
  • Heart-breaking romance.
  • Lots of action.
  • It's a great study in strong, well-developed characters.
  • It's also a great study in plot development and story arc.
  • Science and time travel.
  • It's like a master class in symbolism.
There are plenty of reasons why you should read The Gunslinger and the subsequent six books in the series, but these are the ones that came to me (with the help of Bestie Danielle). You can learn a lot about writing and perserverance through the series. This series alone is what brought me back to reading Stephen King.


Tell me, Lurkdom, what book have I been missing out on?

Thanks to AJ Mullarky for this blogfest.
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Last.fm hit of the day: Stripped Away by Ashes Divide

Friday, September 2, 2011

What's in a Name?

First apologies for the rather lame title. It's been established that titling is beyond my realm of success*, not to mention it's Friday before a long weekend in the US meaning Weekend Brain has already arrived.

Thank goodness Paper Hangover's topic is easy peasy.



Back when the topic was book covers, I mentioned that with books the cover catches my eye more than the title. This doesn't change the fact that sometimes the title does win out. Some examples of purchases based off of title alone are...


  1. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. When I saw this in the YA section of the bookstore, I stopped and stared. The hilarity grabbed my attention right off. The jacket copy totally cemented the purchase.
  2. The Fuck Up. Saw this at Newbuy Comics and thought, "Best. Title. Ever." It contained my most favorite swear and who doesn't love reading about slackers?
  3. A Visit from the Goon Squad. Between the title and the cover, I'm totally intrigued. Still haven't read it and despite the reviews and such my brain is still imagining a bunch of DC and Marvel villians are going to run amock.
  4. Hairstyles of the Damned. I love this title so much I constantly pick up the book. However I never had the urge to complete the purchase transaction.
  5. The Good, The Bad, and The Undead. While it's the 2nd book in Kim Harrison's Hollows series, it's the one that nabbed my attention enough to pick up Dead Witch Walking.

So while covers rule supreme with attention-grabbing points for yours truly, titles really have to pop. No wonder I have such difficulty titling my own stuff.



Lurkdom, what titles--books or otherwise--have caught your attention as of late?



* Something yours truly is working on, but perhaps with less aid of the caffeine monster.

_________
Last.fm hit of the day: Everything Went Black by The Black Dahlia Murder
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