When I learned that my manuscript made a reader I’ve never met or spoken to laugh and cry multiple times — in GIFs

First I was like:

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Then I was like:

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and:

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and:

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and:

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I’d say “My work here is done,” but it isn’t. Cause revisions.

And that whole publication thing.

But still.

–Reposted from my tumblr.

Read what you love.

“It was as if some people believed there was a divide between the books that you were permitted to enjoy and the books that were good for you, and I was expected to choose sides. We were all expected to choose sides. And I didn’t believe it, and I still don’t.

I was, and still am, on the side of books you love.”

—Neil Gaiman, in his Newbery Medal acceptance speech for The Graveyard Book

1) Walk into library 2) Pick a book off the shelves.

Today I’m writing because I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of something I haven’t done for fun since high school: walking into a library, picking up a novel I’d never heard of and had no prior plans to read, and getting sucked in from jacket to epilogue.

As a writer, I’m also an avid reader, but here is my issue: I almost always know what I am going to read. I like structure: I work from lists. I’ll read what a friend hands me, what catches my eye on Goodreads. With purpose: books that play off one another, novels I will later be able to watch the film adaptation of, research/background reading, comp titles, work whose writing mirrors what I intend to do next. I read on a mapped route. And to some degree, if you read a lot of the same author, or work through trilogies or series, or even have a favorite table or shelf you always check at the bookstore, you might do the same.

Here is what I think.

I think, like writing, our reading should sometimes surprise us. And not just surprise us; knock our socks off and eat them and spit out a pair of mittens. Okay, maybe minus the eating and mittens. Point is, a good story has the power to floor you. A good, unexpected story can obliterate you.

In the best possible sense.

So here is my reading challenge for you:

  1. Walk into a library or bookstore.
  2. Pick up a book you’ve never heard of (though by all means, read the jacket and go with one that snags your interest). Bonus points for a genre or age group you don’t usually read!
  3. Take the book home and read it.

If you’re lucky (do not underestimate luck), somewhere in number three you will enter a time warp because the book you’ve brought home to read is so ridiculously engrossing you can’t set it down ’til it’s over. Try it. See what happens.

Here are my latest treasure finds, the two books-off-the-shelf that inspired this post:

Wool by Hugh Howey

Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.” –Goodreads

 

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

“Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.” —Goodreads [abridged]

Full jacket copy here.

Book Review: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

I tend to choose books from my eclectic reading list on a whim, but lately, in part because I’m preparing to write my youngest protagonist ever and in part because I was inspired by fellow author Aubrey Cann, who is doing the same, I’ve been on something of a Middle Grade kick. It’s been a long time since I’ve read MG and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but that was the point: to rediscover and explore.

And what an exploration it has been.

Only three books into my MG expedition, I encountered The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Creepy, compelling, and spearheaded by a haughty perfectionist whose greatest weapons are her standards, Cavendish is an unexpected, nightmarish delight that both charms and chills.

Book: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

Author: Claire Legrand

Julie’s rating: ****

Synopsis

In the cobblestoned town of Belleville, everything is picturesque. Neighborhoods are well-kept, inhabitants are rich and successful, and twelve-year-old Victoria Wright is at the top of her class.

Life would be perfect if her classmates didn’t keep disappearing.

When Victoria’s best and only friend Lawrence Prewitt vanishes, too, it’s up to her to get to the bottom of things. There is something unusual, after all—something eerie, something sinister—about the things that have been happening lately: the missing children who her classmates can’t seem to remember, the too-bright smiles and glassy-eyed looks of parents and teachers when she asks about them, the warning note her own housekeeper silently slips to her at breakfast: “Be careful.” Something in Belleville is wrong. Very wrong.

And that something resides at Nine Silldie Place, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls.

Thoughts

I’ve already said I loved the book. Here are a few reasons why:

1. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is all over that Coraline, Tim Burton-y quality of magical darkness. I LOVE IT. There’s even a hint of Matilda to it, though Victoria has no superpowers (excepting her infamous withering look, which tends to help her get her way).

2. The Home. Inside the orphanage is like a living bad dream: the walls whisper and move. Mirrors play tricks. Painted crows with human hands come to life and swoop down at you. Hallways stretch and redecorate, passages and rooms appear and disappear and change. At times the Home seems to speak and breathe and have a heartbeat. And if you hum in its presence…Well, find out at your own risk!

3. Victoria as lead. This twelve-year-old KICKS BUTT. She’s snobbish and proud (her biggest problem before Lawrence goes missing is getting a B and losing her spot at the top of the class) and yet wholly loveable. When she marches into the nightmare she does it with her head held high, willing herself above fear and refusing to be intimidated. Her indignation at everything from an annoying, yapping dog to the shocking horrors of Mrs. Cavendish’s Home is both endearing and sympathy-garnering. I really found myself rooting for her.

mrs cavendishAnd finally, separate from the writing but an amazing experience for me nonetheless: the illustrations. For one thing, it’s been a very long time since I’ve read a chapter book that was illustrated, so nostalgically-speaking that was pleasant and unexpected. For another, Sarah Watts’ works really were quite charming on their own (again: something of that elegant Tim Burton-y beauty and darkness). But what was coolest for me was a new sense of appreciation. As I’ve been experimenting with handdrawn images–> Photoshop in recent months, I found myself noticing things about Watts’ pictures I would not have observed before. The pencil-like quality of some strokes, while others were solid. Places where color was inverted (white on black rather than black on white). The way everything was arranged together, and how many lines were not clean or straight but everything still looked phenomenal.

See: Mrs. Cavendish smiled. “I make a point of knowing all the children in the area. Professional interest, you know.”

Book Review: Counting to D by Kate Scott

Kate Scott is a very talented author in my local critique group. I had the pleasure of reading her debut novel Counting to D in advance of its release, and today share my thoughts on it. Counting to D officially launches February 11, but you can enter Kate’s Rafflecopter giveaway between now and February 2 for a chance to win your own copy!

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To the review!

The Book

Book: Counting to D

Author: Kate Scott

Publisher: Elliot Books

Release date: February 11, 2014

Rating: 4 stars

Goodreads | Author Website | Elliot Books

Synopsis

The kids at Sam’s school never knew if they should make fun of her for being too smart or too dumb. That’s what it means to be dyslexic, smart, and illiterate. Sam is sick of it. So when her mom gets a job in a faraway city, Sam decides not to tell anyone about her little illiteracy problem. Without her paradox of a reputation, she falls in with a new group of highly competitive friends who call themselves the Brain Trust. When she meets Nate, her charming valedictorian lab partner, she declares her new reality perfect. But in order to keep it that way, she has to keep her learning disability a secret. The books are stacked against her and so are the lies. Sam’s got to get the grades, get the guy, and get it straight—without being able to read. —Goodreads

Review

Warning: May contain spoilers!

Any kid who’s ever moved will be able to identify with Sam Wilson, who at the beginning of Counting to D moves to Portland and away from her two close friends and the safety she’s known all her life. Moving is scary enough, but add to that a learning disability that means illiteracy and the pressure is on not just to find her place at Kennedy High, but to keep anyone from discovering her secret…

In addition to the brilliant, Sam-shaped portrait of dyslexia Counting to D paints—taking refuge in numbers, count patterns, advanced math; having to listen to textbooks, pretending to take notes during class, discreetly conning lab partners into reading directions and writing up reports; the paradox of wanting to be like everyone else and embracing the differences that predispose Sam to unusual talents—what resonated with me even more was a universal theme: wanting to be accepted.

At least as much as surviving Spanish and improving her ability to read and spell, Sam worries about having friends—and that opens this book up to so much more than dyslexia. As she meets new people and gets to know them, Sam is constantly asking, Does that make us friends? Does this mean we’re friends now? and evaluating how they perceive her.

And the friends she makes are half the fun: everything from smart geeks with slight BO problems to two-faced popular girls, a star athlete, and a somber valedictorian boyfriend. I LOVED the characters in this book! They were complex, surprising, and more than anything human: with their own shortcomings and vulnerabilities, same as Sam.

Contains other high school drama/rites of passage: cliques, bad grades, prom, relationships, parties, etc.

An inspiring read. Perfect for anyone looking for insight on dyslexia or just the kid next door trying to fit in.

And don’t forget the giveaway! Enter between now and February 2 for your chance to win.

Reading Bingo Challenge 2014

Make reading even more fun this year by playing this Reading Bingo Challenge designed by Retreat by Random House. If you’re into books, scavenger hunts, lists, and/or crossing things off (all of which I totally am), you’re gonna love this.

This is also a great way to get people who are intimidated by books excited about reading. You can put it up on the fridge, use the squares as scavenger hunt prompts, share it with friends or a book club. They have both a generic and a YA one, so whatever you read, your bases are covered, and it makes a phenomenal activity for kids. You can even assign prizes as extra motivation!

Click either of the images below to go to the original post.

30 Short Stories in 30 Days: The List

Last year, for the month of January, I read a short story every day. I set this challenge for myself as a concrete goal that would expose me to many authors, genres, and writing styles in a short time and collectively improve my own writing. And it did: After each story I’d reflect on what I’d read in terms of both content and writing, and then I’d write a blog post about it.

What I forgot to do was post a complete list of the 30 stories. So, requested by a reader and terribly belated, here it is– the 30 (actually 31) stories I read for this challenge. The links included are to the blog posts I wrote for each story, most of which contain links to where the story can be found online.

Enjoy!

30 Stories in 30 Days: The List

  1. “The Saucier’s Apprentice” by S.J. Perelman (Day 1)
  2. “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe (Day 2)
  3. “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury (Day 3)
  4. “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck (Day 4)
  5. “The South” (El Sur) by Jorge Luis Borges (Day 5)
  6. “The Door” by E.B. White (Day 6)
  7. “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez (Day 7)
  8. “Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy (Day 8)
  9. “The Tale” by Joseph Conrad (Day 9)
  10. “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka (Day 10)
  11. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (Day 11)
  12. “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant (Day 12)
  13. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (Day 13)
  14. “Graven Image” by John O’Hara (Day 14)
  15. “The Nightingale and the Rose” by Oscar Wilde(Day 15)
  16. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (Day 16)
  17. “The Standard of Living” by Dorothy Parker (Day 17)
  18. “The Happy Man” by Jonathan Lethem (Day 18)
  19. An Upheaval by Anton Chekhov (Day 19)
  20. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs (Day 20)
  21. “Almost No Memory” by Lydia Davis (Day 21)
  22. “The Three-Day Blow” by Ernest Hemingway (Day 22)
  23. “The Second Bakery Attack” by Haruki Murakami (Day 23)
  24. “Putois” by Anatole France (Day 24)
  25. “The Ghosts” by Lord Dunsany (Day 25)
  26. “Nicolas was…” by Neil Gaiman (Day 26)
  27. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut (Day 27)
  28. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Day 28)
  29. “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov (Day 29)
  30. “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen (Day 30)
  31. *Bonus story! “The Apostate” by George Milburn (Day 31)

Words of the Week 1/1/2014

Happy New Year! In addition to being the first day of the year, today is also the first Wednesday– and so begins my new segment, Words of the Week. I’ll now be posting something vocabulary-related every Wednesday in order to expand my lexicon and give me an excuse to practice all those words I’ve looked up from reading and promptly forgotten. Word-a-holics, welcome!

In addition to the variable definitions, sentences, illustrations, and other mischief I’ll provide, I hope the weekly posts can also act as prompts for challenge-hungry logophiles. Sentence contributions will always be welcome. Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll even organize a word-off!

For now, here are the 5 words of the week:

wont 1. adj. in the habit of doing something; accustomed to 2. n. one’s customary behavior in a certain situation

disabuse v. to persuade someone that an idea or belief is mistaken

conjugal adj. of or relating to marriage or the relationship between spouses

sacramental 1. adj. related to religious ceremony 2. n. a sign of divine grace

tribulation n. a cause or state of great suffering/trouble

And here are five sentences that use them:

  1. A terrible musician but a cunning ladies’ man, it was Harrison’s wont to carry an acoustic guitar and practice chords in public places in order to pick up women.
  2. Or at least, it was, until Harrison met Rachel, who disabused him of his women-attracting strategy by bringing around her very single, very eager-to-date musician friend, Robbie, to flirt with him.
  3. Fortunately, Rachel revealed herself as orchestrating prankster just as Robbie was approaching conjugal topics with Harrison.
  4. Despite, or perhaps because of Rachel’s prank, Harrison took her appearance as a sacramental and asked her out.
  5. “Okay,” Rachel agreed, “But only because your terrible playing has been such a tribulation to the people who live and work around here.”

Forum Friday: Writing resolutions for 2014

Happy last Friday of 2013! Today’s Forum Friday comes with an announcement: Starting 2014, I will be writing this segment irregularly. That is, I’ll continue posting Forum Fridays when I have thoughtful, amusing, or otherwise meaningful prompts to share, but not every week. Maybe not even every other week. I started Forum Fridays close to a year and a half ago, back when I was a first-time novelist and had a lot of questions about writing books and how other authors handled various intricacies of the process and craft. Now I am both more experienced, and have exhausted what was once an extensive store of writing-related questions. Though I’m still very much a novice in the grand scheme of things, I do not wish to repeat questions I have already posed, questions that have been done to spontaneous combustion, or questions that have been answered well elsewhere.

However, in lieu of Forum Friday I plan to begin a new weekly segment to do with vocabulary. I am always writing down and looking up words, even making crib sheets for myself to print out and practice with, but I never manage to sit with the words as much as I’d like. I figure a weekly practice will help with that, and could result in prompts, illustrations, and sentence-crafting mischief for You, my fabulous readers. Haven’t worked out the details completely, but I plan to play with it and make it fun.

Until then, today’s prompt: What reading- and/or writing-related goals are you setting for 2014?

Forum Friday: Favorite books of 2013

What were your favorite books this year? They don’t have to be new as long as they were new to you!

Here are some of my favorites (not presented in rank– they were all 5 stars for me):

     

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  2. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  4. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
  5. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  7. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer