Monday, February 28, 2011

The Benefits of Reading

This year I've made a point to set aside time each day to read for fun. With school it isn't always easy, but I've found it really beneficial. Not only am I finally getting through the massive pile of books beside my bed, but I've been picking up tips I can apply to my own writing.

For example:
- I've learned a lot about characterization from reading Stephanie Perkins' ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, which I may or may not go back to from time to time because I adore it so much. It's so important to be able to relate to a book's main character, and Anna is perfect. Not only that, St.Clair and the other supporting characters are fully fleshed out. I've tried to take note of how they all relate and interact with each other, and apply that to my own writing.

- JANE EYRE offers a plethora of great descriptions. I'm a sucker for longwinded, detailed descriptions of people and places, and Charlotte Bronte is a genius when it comes to setting. I've been using a notecard as a bookmark, and occasionally jot down words or phrases I particularly like. Those have all come in handy when editing my own manuscript; I've discovered a new way to vary words, and I think it's definitely made my own writing stronger.

- THE HUNGER GAMES is the best example I can think of when it comes to conflict. It's everywhere, from the plot to the characters' relationships. The stories are tight and constantly moving forward; there isn't anything extra. I've been able to cut chapters from my own work and write new ones that are more than just filler. Honestly, filling only belongs in delicious pastries, not books.

I could give you a hundred more examples, but you might hate me if I did. But I urge you guys to pay close attention to the things you're reading. No matter what, I can guarantee you'll learn something. Great books are great learning tools, and books you dislike will teach you how to do things better. Either way, you can't lose.

Here are the books I've yet to read (I told myself I couldn't buy any new books until these were all read):
CRESCENDO by Becca Fitzpatrick
XVI by Julia Karr
INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher
EVERCROSSED by Elizabeth Chandler
BITCH IS THE NEW BLACK by Helena Andrews

What do your TBR piles look like right now?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cover Lust

For those of you who don't know who Coralie Bickford-Smith is, consider this your (in)formal education. She's a London-based designer whose work now graces the covers of the Penguin Hardcover Classics, amongst some of their other collections. If you haven't seen them, feast your eyes:

I've been obsessed with her work since I first saw the Penguin Classics debut a while back. The art nerd in me totally geeked out, and I went in search of them. They're a little difficult to get hold of in the U.S., but Amazon carries them, as well as The Book Depository (and free shipping, too!). I recently purchased JANE EYRE (1. because I'm horribly under-read in the classics department and 2. because the movie's coming out soon) and plan on collecting all of them at some point. I mean, come on. Your bookshelf would look freaking gorgeous if you had an entire shelf of them, and I'm vain like that. I want a pretty bookshelf.

If you want to see more of Coralie's work, you can check out her website or this nifty article that just came out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I recently sent part one of SILENCE to my CPs, and have been doing some major editing since. The next week's going to be a little busy, and since I might not get a lot of writing done, I thought I'd give you another little teaser today. Enjoy!
            I was running, my lungs burning as I sucked in the frigid November air. My eyes stung, and I couldn’t stop the tears as the wind continued to pummel my body. My parents were on either side of me, hands clenched into fists as we sprinted up Bridge Street, the rest of the rebels only steps behind. In the distance, the Guard called out to us, demanding our immediate surrender.
            No one stopped.
            I pushed myself even harder, arms pumping at my sides. My entire body ached. Snow stung my skin and turned it pink, and my feet slipped on ice as we rounded the corner. The bridge was only a few hundred feet away, swaying dangerously back and forth. I could see the woods beyond it and felt my heart soar. If I could make it to the tree line, I’d be safe.
            But I didn’t. None of us did. The sound of high-powered rifles filled the night. Pop-pop-pop. I saw someone to the right of me go down in a spray of red.
            “Go!” Papa yelled, shoving both my mother and I.
The driving force behind me fell away. I turned around just in time to see my father fall face-first into the snow. I opened my mouth to scream, but my mother grabbed my arm and dragged me onto the bridge. I stumbled, immediately reaching out to steady myself. The rope left a pink burn on the palm of my hand.
Mom had stopped to signal the others to disperse, but she was too late. Most of the rebels were lying in the snow, scattered across the clearing. The bridge was weighed down with bodies, barely moving now despite the gale. My heart dropped into my stomach as I stood there, my breath forming tiny puffs in the frigid night air.
The planks beneath my feet shivered as she came running back. “Run, Neva,” she ordered, propelling me toward the trees. “Whatever you do, don’t stop running.”
We took off in the direction of the trees. We were closing in on them, their branches like open arms. Safety was so close and I sucked in an icy breath, ready to make the final drive.
And I did exactly what I’d been told not to. I stopped. Right there, in the middle of the bridge. I was less than twenty feet from the tree line, but I couldn’t take another step. My mother lay in the snow, one arm outstretched as if she were reaching for me. I couldn’t see her face, but my mind created a picture full of desperation and eyes filled with fear. Red curls fanned out across the snow, long tendrils whipping back and forth in the breeze. Her coat was red, but it didn’t match the spray of muddy crimson around her. Something inside my chest tightened, and I forced myself to move toward her.
"Mom?" I whispered.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Love

Personally, I'm not a fan of Singles Awareness Day, but I am a fan of books. So this year my bookshelf and I are celebrating together, and I thought I'd give three special novels some extra lovin'. (I did a vlog for this, actually, but I'm really sick and look like a monster, so I scrapped it.)

This is my all-time favorite book. My copy is yellowed and dog-eared and falling apart (which is why I also have two backups), yet I can't bear to part with it. I first read it in 5th or 6th grade, so it's been with me for a long time. Back then, I was really into Christian fiction; these days I tend to stay clear, but I keep coming back to this book. The message in it transcends religion and personal beliefs, and really empowered me to do something with my life. The story is heartbreaking yet uplifting, the characters feel like people I've known my entire life, and the ending gives me warm fuzzies. I've read this book at least thirty or forty times since I first picked it up, and I've passed it off on nearly everyone I know. So if any book should get some extra attention, it's this one.

I first read this back in 2009, when I was living in Ireland. The cover was initially what caught my eye, but as soon as I read the first page, I knew I couldn't leave the library without it (since then I've made sure to get my own copy). From what I hear, it's a book you either love or you hate - there's no middle ground. It's narrated by Death, and you find out in the first few pages exactly how it's going to end. The thing is, by the time you get to the end, you've forgotten. I bawled like a baby while I read this (more than once, too). It's an incredible story that surpasses any age barriers; I'm convinced anyone could read it and love it.

If you follow LTWF, you know this has been our book of the month for more than one month (mostly because we forgot to change it, but also because this book is just so fantastic). I also raved about it here last month. I'd heard nothing but good things about the book before it came out, but I wasn't prepared to love it as much as I did. It easily catapulted its way into my top five books of all time, where I'm sure it will remain forever more. It's cute, charming, light-hearted, and all-around lovely. The characters are likable, the romance is spot-on, and it's set in Paris. I mean, how could you not like it?

So, happy Singles Awareness Day, bookshelf! We've been together a long time now, and we're still going strong. Maybe your gift to me this year could be some new reading material? I've got a long list of books I need to acquire, and I'm sure you'd love to have them as well. Keep me posted!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vlog: Why I'm Awesome

I promise to be more useful and informative next time.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's All in the Name, Part II

If you're a regular reader here at Publishing Lane, you'll remember a few months ago when I talked about naming characters, and how it plays a large part in shaping their personalities. I've since continued to struggle with this problem, and only recently managed to find my way out of the maze. How, you ask? Lists. Lots and lots of lists. Trial and error. Imagination.

SILENCE is in the midst of revisions, and a lot of things have changed. Most importantly, Neva's love interest. Since I started writing, he's undergone three name changes, both first and last:

1. August Eisenberg
2. Zion McGarvey
3. Graham Madigan

I'm still not sure where the hell McGarvey came from; I think I was using it as more of a placeholder than actually seriously considering it. Either way, these changes have caused mini uproars with each new name. The first draft was written entirely with August at the helm. He acted a very certain way, but as I re-outlined the story, I realized it didn't suit his name at all. So either I changed the name, or I changed his personality completely.

A massive rewrite didn't sound fun, so I chose to change his name. Zion fit more with the personality I'd created, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was still wrong. And it wasn't just the name. As I sunk my teeth into the second draft, I realized that Neva wouldn't want to be with the boy I'd created. She'd morphed slightly from draft to draft, and as I perfected her, I realized that she needed a better match.

So what did I do? I changed his name again. No only that, I went back to the drawing board and mapped out a slightly different personality. Graham's actions are more deliberate, but also more reminiscent of the way a teenager would act. He isn't so hardened, and I think it's really added to his and Neva's chemistry. So the Graham you see in the final draft won't really resemble the August who was there on day one. Am I sad to let him go? Not at all. Because Graham is the boy I (and Neva) had been trying to find all along. He's charming, kind, thoughtful, but also kind of an idiot. He doesn't always think, which eventually leads to some major complications. And that's why I like him. I like him because he isn't perfect. He's tall, and skinny, and kind of awkward looking. Lanky body, cherub face. So he's stuck feeling like an adult but not looking like one. I love him and I hope, when you get to see him, you will too.

This guy kind of resembles the mental image I have of Graham, so do with that what you will.

On the downside, I still don't have a name for my villain. Every time I reference him, it says "___ ___" in my manuscript. One of these days I'll get it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

I'm awake, so technically it's still Tuesday! This is an excerpt from the [currently being] edited version of SILENCE. Zion's name has changed to Graham (which, thankfully, seems to be sticking. Third time's the charm, I tell ya!) -- just a head's up.

Also, congrats to Garish Sun, who won my critique contest!


I backed up, prepared to throw myself at the door again, but wound up launching myself into Graham’s arms. There was a soft oomph as we collided, then a husky laugh as he wrapped his arms around me.
“Well, hello to you, too,” he said, his breath tickling my cheek.
For a moment, I let myself enjoy Graham’s warmth. His body heat seeped into me, counteracting the cold cement I’d been lying on all day. My nose was buried in the collar of his shirt; he smelled like the ocean and pine trees. Though he was a complete beanpole, he was as sturdy and unfailing as ever, holding me up as the tension in my body slowly melted away. His hands rubbed circles up and down my back, and a part of me wished I could stand there forever. It was hard not to feel safe when Graham was around.  
Eventually the tears stopped, and the nausea in my stomach settled. Sensing I had calmed down, he held me at arm’s length and studied me. I watched his blue eyes drag over my body, checking to make sure I was all right. My hand instinctively reached up to brush an unruly blonde curl out of his eyes, something I’d caught myself doing a lot recently. I constantly berated myself for it, since I didn’t want to grow too attached to him. Still, Graham Madigan wasn’t someone you could just walk away from or ignore. While I’d been trying to keep my distance, he was busy trying to get to know me. It would’ve been easier to tell him to leave me alone, but a part of me didn’t want to.
I smiled despite myself.
“Better?” he asked, pulling me toward the stairs.
I nodded. Mister and Misses Madigan were huddled near the radiator, and I gave them a feeble wave from where we sat. Frank saluted me with a grin.
“All right there, Neva? Not dead yet, are we?”
I shook my head while Caroline smacked her husband, promising to have dinner on the table just as soon as we got out of the damn basement.
“We’re having potatoes,” she said, folding her arms across her prominent chest. “It’s all we’ve got.”
Which was only partially true. Mostly, the woman just didn’t know how to cook. Still, I’d rather eat potatoes for a week straight than starve to death.
Frank let out an exaggerated grown, which earned him another slap on the wrist from his wife. Beside me, Graham was trying not to laugh and failing miserably. Caroline’s face twitched, as if she wanted to smile, but it never quite broke through. It still amazed me that, despite the war raging outside, the family sequestered in the basement of #509 was still smiling.