Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'Where Good Ideas Come From' & the Benefits of Crit Partners

It’s easy to get ‘too close’ to our work as writers. We write, we revise, we revise again. At a certain point, we need to just back away from the manuscript so we can see it with fresh eyes. But even then, chances are we’ll miss something in the solitude of editing.

That’s the reason you always hear critique partners are a wonderful fantabulous thing. For the past year+, I’ve had a great critique partner. We meet nearly every Wednesday at Starbucks. Sometimes we exchange writing, sometimes we don’t. But we always talk about what we’re working on and what’s not working in what we’re writing. Without fail, I walk away with ideas about how to move forward with my WIP.

So, I thought, why not find some more critique partners? Not to mention, I’ve also been on the hunt for beta readers, so I’m not scrambling when the draft of Through Charlotte’s Eyes is done. It seemed incredibly serendipitous then, when author Roni Loren started #betamatch on Twitter so fellow writers could find each other. Then, just days later, literary agent Mary Kole hosted a critique connection on her blog.

Connections made! Critique partners found! And as I’ve been getting feedback on my first few chapters, new realizations about my WIP seem to popping out like crazy. And I can thank all these new ideas on exchanging ideas with other writers, critiquing each other’s work, etc.

There’s a scientific basis in critique partners work, or so I’ve learned from reading ‘Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation’ by Steven Johnson. The book takes a wide-angle lens perspective on where ideas come from. I haven’t gotten too far into yet, but he talks a lot about the influence of environment, about the way science works... and then there’s this section about where great ideas are often fostered (again keeping in mind, lots of his examples come from science):

Excerpt from pg. 61:
“Dunbar’s research suggests one vaguely reassuring thought: even with all the advanced technology of a leading molecular biology lab, the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains in a circle of humans at a table, talking shop. The lab meeting creates an environment where new combinations can occur, where information can spill over from one project to another. When you work alone in the office, peering into a microscope, your ideas can get trapped in place, stuck in your initial biases. The social flow of the group conversation turns that private solid state into a liquid network.”

Aha! Scientific reasoning behind why group thinking works (mind you, not herd mentality - that’s a different post for a different day). Just exchange his lab for the writing desk, and you’ve got a perfect analogy for why critique partners are a good thing. Get away from the solitiude of writing for a little while and talk to another writer about what you’re working on. Even if its online and not at a table in Starbucks, it helps immensely. Frees your thinking. Opens your mind to new possibilities.

I’ll write a more detailed review of the book when I’m done, but I already do suggest ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ to any writer at any stage in the process. Johnson has a way of opening your mind to the different ways our minds open to new ideas.

Not to mention, he’s a huge advocate for writing ideas down (to form new connections to seemingly unrelated things). “You get a feeling that there’s an interesting avenue to explore, a problem that might someday lead you to a solution, but then you get distracted by more pressing matters and the hunch disappears,” he writes on page 83. “So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.” Again, that’s another post for another day.

For now, go out, write, and share your ideas! Speaking of, it’s time for me to meet with my critique partner.

Til next time, here’s to letting those creative ideas flow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To NaNoWriMo...or No?

With November 1st just around the corner, published and aspiring authors everywhere are getting ready to crank out at least 50,000 words in the span of one month. That’s National Novel Writing Month for you. I’ve never participated, but for the past couple of years, I’ve been tempted to. But what happens if you’re in the midst of revising/rewriting another WIP?

I’ve toyed with the idea of starting an entirely new novel for the 2010 NaNoWriMo - I have plenty of ideas already spinning around my brain - but I keep reminding myself that’s my reward for finishing the novel I’m working on now. Yes, reward. I enjoy writing after all, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it at all.

So I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. And more likely than not, I’m not participating in the awesomeness that is Miss Snark’s First Victim’s The Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. I SO want to participate, but I won’t unless Through Charlotte’s Eyes is polished and sparkling. And before it can be that, I need beta readers. But I’m not (quite) there yet either....

November, for me, should just be dubbed NoRevRewMo, or National Revising/Rewriting Month, because that’s what I plan on doing. What about you?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meeting Charlotte Corday

I've put this post off for awhile as I've worked on other things , but I thought today would be an appropriate time to start talking about my trip to Paris way back in March. Why, you ask? Because July 27th marks Charlotte Corday's birthday, and she was one of the biggest reasons I went to Paris in the first place.

A large part of my WIP, Through Charlotte's Eyes, surprise surprise, is about the famous assassin Charlotte Corday. No one could make much sense of why Corday thought killing journalist and politician Jean-Paul Marat would end the French Revolution - until her distant relative, Anne-Marie Gessner, tumbles into her life, becoming Charlotte and seeing life through the French revolutionary's eyes.
Well, that's the premise of my novel at least. I'd read a lot about Charlotte while at The University of Chicago. I saw pictures of her online and in books, but I'd never walked the streets where she walked, until I went to France. And lo and behold, I found her throughout the country!
First up, the Conciergerie, where 'convicts' were taken shortly before they met the guillotine. The building is now a museum all about the French Revolution. One room, in fact, listed all of the people whose last days were spent in the Conciergerie jail cells.
In the above picture, Charlotte's crime is listed as being a 'noble,' which she was and which was considered a crime, but that's not why she landed below the blade of the guillotine. The only thing I can think of is that this list of guillotine victims was updated in the early 1800s, a time in which the French still considered Charlotte's crime reprehensible because the people still idolized Marat. It wasn't until the latter-half of the 19th century that opinions about Charlotte's murder plot changed, with history books portraying it as a heroic and courageous act. Charlotte's claim in her final days - that she killed one man to save 100,000 - grew in acceptance over the years, and Charlotte, amazingly enough, did turn into a hero of sorts nearly a century later.
In fact, Charlotte Corday was among the most famous people to stay at the Conciergerie during the French Revolution, which is why it came as no surprise that her picture was prominently displayed in the museum. Many history books, in fact, claim she stayed in the same cell as Marie Antoinette, but one walk through the museum shows that was clearly not the case.
Rather, Charlotte would have stayed in a cell much like this one. (Granted, no weird looking mannequin would have been standing in the corner. But, you get the idea). She would have one small pallet to sleep on and a place to relieve herself, and that was it! On the other hand, Marie Antoinette's quarters were on display in the Conciergerie as well, and they were incredibly spacious, especially considering they were attached to a chapel, and they contained an actual bed. Charlotte had no such amenities. Then again, she wasn't a dethroned Queen.

The Conciergerie was just one place I found Charlotte. I'll continue to post about where I found her in the coming weeks. Hint on the next place: it involves chocolate!
In the meantime, happy birthday Charlotte!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How You Know It’s Summertime

Something happens when the sun comes out in Chicago - I go outside more. I’m more social. My friends and family get married (fifth wedding of the year this coming weekend! Oh my!) I feel more inspired.

I’ve also been doing beta reads for some great authors. I’ve been swimming and running more (despite what I lament here), trying to get healthy and training for my first 5K ever... And did I mention I got engaged? Because I did. :)

So, with being outside and enjoying the weather and friends and family, I clearly haven’t been around my laptop as much. This isn’t to say I haven’t been writing. Despite my page-a-day calendar falling off at 6/8/10, I’ve been writing nearly every day.. (If you don’t count the weekends away - I’ve only been in town on weekends twice in the past, oh, 2 months?) I’m keeping up on Gather, hot dogs, and even my novel, to some extent. How do I, you ask? I stopped keeping track of word counts (it takes up time!) I’ve also been staying up late, a lot. That might be changing soon too though - because I gave up caffeine nearly three weeks ago now.

Oy vey! Just writing that makes me tired. But, you know what? Strangely enough, I’ve had more energy lately than I’ve had in awhile - with the exception of the 2:30pm tiredness striking without fail most days. Maybe because it’s summertime in the city? Because, if you haven’t noticed - I love Chicago when it’s warm out. Too bad it’s not like this all year round!

But maybe it also has something to do with being busy, too... I like being busy. It keeps me on my toes, helps me manage my time even more than I usually do.

How do you manage your time - especially when it's this awesomely nice outside?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Page-A-Day Calendar

Here I'll keep track of all my progress over the next month on the page-a-day challenge . Goal: Write 1 page (equivalent to ~500 words) each day on my WIP. Thanks Weronika for organizing this!

UPDATE: Out of curiosity, as of 5/24, I'm also keeping track of how many words I'm writing for other writing projects - i.e. hot dogs and Gather/entertainment!

5/16: 584 words
5/17: 0! yikes
5/18: 588 words
5/19: 618 words
5/20: 0 on novel, but 1,000ish on Gather articles. That counts... right? =0
5/21: 695 words
5/22: 0
5/23: 581 words
5/24: 786 words on WIP; 310 words on hot dogs; 494 on Gather (to be posted next week) - Good day for words!
5/25: 0 on WIP; 327 words on hot dogs (article goes up soon); 1485 words across four Gather articles
5/26: 517 on WIP; 199 on hot dogs; 450 on Gather
5/27: 0 on WIP; 598 on Gather; 213 on food blog
5/28: 0 on WIP; 173 on Gather
5/29: 0 on WIP; 254 on Gather
5/30: 0 on WIP; 366 on Gather
5/31: 0 on everything. =(
6/1: 401 on WIP; 487 on Gather
6/2: about -300 since I edited my WIP tonight; 244 on Gather; 355 on hot dogs
6/3: 596 words on WIP
6/4: 0 on WIP; 407 on Gather
6/5: 0 all around - I spent the day with one of my best friends on her wedding day! =)
6/6: 931 words on Gather
6/7: 243 on Gather; 383 on hot dogs
6/8: 1427 on Gather ... clearly I need to learn to balance my time more between projects

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Let's recap: Week One #padc

It's officially been one week since I started the Page-A-Day Challenge, organized by the awesome Weronika Janczuk, and I've already definitely noticed some things...

For starters, I've had a crazy busy week that's taken me out of the apartment and away from my computer quite a bit. I went to a wake for a friend's mom on Monday right after work, and then yesterday I was gone all day for a day-long bachelorette party that I put together for one of my best friends.

All of this making it safe to say that sometimes life takes you away from writing and there's really not much you can do about it, which is why I'm okay with having 2 days this week where I didn't write a single word. Sometimes, you just can't avoid it, and you can't beat yourself up about it. Tomorrow is always a new day for words.

I've also noticed that while I have only been doing one page a day and not much more, it's not that I'm not working on other writing projects, too. On May 20th, for one, I didn't work on the novel, but wrote over 1,000 words on the season finale of Grey's Anatomy--which required that I write and post in a timely manner, which meant I didn't work on the novel that day.

Because of this and just to appease my own curiosity, I'm going to start keep tracking about how many words I write for things like Gather and hot dogs every day. I'll be curious to see if I really and truly am balancing my time between all my writing projects.

But, I'm done writing for today, mainly because I am absolutely exhausted after a great but busy weekend with some great friends. When I'm this exhausted--beyond tired really--I can't think all that clearly, which makes being coherent with my novel near impossible.

This week promises to be less busy--at least, as far as I know--so it's back to the normal schedule starting tomorrow. =)

So, that's that. I'm going to go fold some laundry then go straight to bed. Happy writing!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Page-A-Day Challenge began... yesterday!

Well, I'm already behind. I signed up to take part in the Page-A-Day Challenge, started by the inspiring Weronika Janczuk, and I'm already a day behind! The Challenge started yesterday with the purpose of keeping us working on our novels by just writing one page a day for the next month. We don't have to write any more--if we don't feel like it--but we have to strive for not writing anything less.

I have a reason for not starting yesterday--namely, the fact that I was home in my apartment for no more than an hour all day yesterday (and didn't get home til 12:30 last night)--but I'm not going to focus on yesterday. I'm going to focus on keeping this going, and writing every day from now on through the next month--and hopefully beyond.

While I've been writing more than ever--well, since grad school anyways--most of my writing has been for Gather lately. By having this page-a-day goal, I'll also keep myself focused on my novel, too.
To keep myself accountable, I'll continue to update the calendar located here with what I've written. (Since I use Liquid Story Binder to write, I'll actually just keep track of word count, rather than pages, under the understanding that one page is about 500 pages.) As Weronika suggest, I'll tweet it, too!

To see who else is committing this page-a-day challenge, check out Weronika's blog here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Write-Your-A$$-off Day, Chicago-style, success!

Yesterday, I met up with my writing pal over at a local coffee/lunch spot with one goal in mind: sit down and work on my WIP, Through Charlotte's Eyes. Dear friends, if you're having trouble making progress in your WIP, I highly recommend finding a spot to spend most of your day to write. All in all, the 5-hour write-a-thon was a smashing success!

I finished rewriting Chapter 17 completely; added an entirely new (and lengthy) section, Chapter 18--which I'd been looking forward to writing ever since getting back from Paris weeks ago; and then started in on another new chapter. Approximately 5,000 words written/added if Liquid Story Binder is to believed.

On that note, too: Liquid Story Binder = awesome. I used the typewriter feature for most of the 5-hour writing time, meaning I couldn't go back and question what I wrote. It forced me to keep writing and keep pushing forward, which is exactly what I needed yesterday to be about.

I expect to have more of these write-your-a$$-off days in the near future. Days like those remind me why I write and what I'm working toward: not just a finished, polished novel but also making writing a full-time job.

Fellow bloggers and friends, do you write in long sessions, or short bursts? How do you keep your fingers clicking against the keyboard in order to make progress on your latest work-in-progress novel?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WIP Wednesday #7

Well, I haven't posted one of these in awhile. Hmm, since July 2009 to be precise. Oops. But I swear, I'm here! And I'm still spending a crazy amount of time behind my computer screen.

If I'm not working on the novel--which continues to progress, no matter how slowly--it's writing about hot dogs, or writing entertainment articles/reviews on Gather, or brainstorming new novels (yes, yes, I know, I should be focused on getting the first novel done first--but sometimes, I just can't help myself). Then there's also attempting to keep up with everyone else's lovely blogs, and keeping up on Twitter/Facebook... and then, you know, working a full-time job and somehow also having a social life away from the computer.

All of this begs the question, when is too much... too much? Probably when you don't enjoy it.

Luckily, I'm still enjoying all of it. So, here's me, still sitting behind my computer, writing. (No one really believed me when I posted on Facebook that I was giving up on my novel on April Fool's Day).

After the amazing Paris trip, I've been overcome with so many ideas for the novel, important details that I need to include in my WIP, Through Charlotte's Eyes. I can finally really envision it whole, and that's such a driving force for me to finish this novel within the year.

But along with all these details are keeping track of my timeline that moves back in forth between 2005 and 1792-3, making sure I'm not repeating things I mentioned in Chapter 2 again in Chapter 17 that don't bear repeating, and so forth. Two weeks ago, I spent at least a half hour trying to track down something I had already written that affected what happened in a later chapter... I thought, there has to be better way to go about this. There has to be a way to be better organized. And voila! I thought of Scrivener, but, alas, that's only for Mac users. But the creators of the word processing program for writers recommended some other programs for Windows, luckily.

Thanks to those recommendations, I've been using Liquid Story Binder for the past two weeks and I'm finding it so much easier to get organized, so I don't spend wasted time tracking down things that I worked on weeks ago. Phew! (Anyone else using LSB? Or another similar program? How are you liking it?)

Things are moving smoothly now. I WILL finish this draft, I WILL get it edited, I WILL get it out to beta readers, and I WILL finish this novel by year's end. To keep pushing forward, my writing pal and I are organizing our own Write-your-A$$-off day for the end of the month. And I can't wait... writing a little bit here, a little bit there on the novel, never feels like enough. April 25th can't get here soon enough!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A letter to the weather

Dear Chicago Spring Weather,

Thanks for stopping by. Put your feet up, relax. Stay for awhile. We've all missed you.

The weather reports tell me that you're think of leaving soon, and bringing back the chilly cold this weekend along with some crazy thunderstorms. I don't mind the rain, but please don't leave. I want to bask in your warm 70+ degree weather glow for as long as possible. So, please, stick around.

Yours truly,

Monday, March 15, 2010

I'm baaaack from France

France (and the one day journey to Germany) was absolutely amazing. And that's all I have to say about that. Well, not really... but I'm still recovering and have loads to catch up. So, for now, I'll leave you with a couple pictures. I promise to return with loads more info about my European adventure when I come out from all the laundry, work, and loads of other stuff that didn't go away even though I did.
.Our first time at the Eiffel Tower.

Standing in the Place de la Concorde at the Obelisk looking down the Champs Elysees. Very cool. Except for the traffic.

Walking onto the Ile Saint Louis, where we stayed. Beautiful. Ah, sigh. Wish I was still there.

But now... it's back to reality.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Over on Gather

No more How I Met Your Mother posts/reviews over here!

I am still writing them, but they're over at Gather now. Gather is a relatively new social networking site. Think Facebook, but with a focus on sharing all sorts of info--from entertainment to news to book reviews to status updates.

I'll be reviewing a lot more TV, and books, and movies, and all sorts of fun stuff over there, too. So, come see!

I will still be posting on this blog, too, but now it really will be all about the writing!

My first HIMYM post over there: Ted is a Jerk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paris trip approaching!

Our trip to Paris is officially within the 10-day forecast! Not that the forecast is necessarily anywhere close to being right, but here's hoping it is (as it currently stands, it's supposed to be a sunny day here in Chicago). We're leaving early afternoon, with a short stopover in Washington DC, then jetting off to Paris. Hear that weather?? NO SNOWSTORMS that might delay either flight! I'd appreciate your cooperation.

(Photo from my youngest sister's trip to Paris last summer)

My boyfriend and I have so much planned, and it'll be amazing if we get to see everything we want to. First, we've got two day trips. One to Caen/Normandy. The city still has a lot of the same buildings that were there during the French Revolution. Even street names haven't changed, meaning? I know exactly where Charlotte Corday spent a few years of her life, both while living at Le Gran Manoir and the Abbey Aux Dames! While there, we're also planning on going to the Normandy beaches to see where my grandpa landed during the D-Day invasions. Anything else we see in Caen will just be icing on the cake.

We've also got a day trip to Aachen, the furthest west you can get in Germany. The boyfriend is planning this one (as he's fluent in German), but even though it means time away from Paris I'm looking forward to it, if only because I've never been there (and I hear it's gorgeous).

And then there's Paris! The city of light! With the two day trips, we've got about 6 days in Paris. One of those afternoons (or days), we'll be going to Versailles, for sure. I want to see the palace, but even more so, I'm looking forward to checking out the Musee Lambinet, the only museum in France to have an entire exhibit devoted to paintings of Charlotte Corday and Marat.

The other days will be spent exploring everywhere possible. From Montmartre, to Marais, to the Latin Quarter. I must, must, must see the catacombs and the Conciergerie and Sacre Couer and the Chapelle Expiatoire and the Picasso Museum and the Tuileries and... well the list goes on.

I've asked a version of this before, but I'll ask again:

If there was only one thing you could see/do in Paris, what would it be?

Once I'm back, I absolutely promise to post about the trip, along with pictures, of course.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Matchmaking, new relationships, and lots of phone calls on HIMYM

Rabbit or Duck
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 15

When I watched the Superbowl this Sunday, I told my friends--who are also HIMYM fans--that since the game was on CBS, there had to be some sort of commercial featuring Barney. Sure enough, he appeared holding a sign that read what's pictured to the right. For those lucky enough to get through on the line, they heard a pre-recorded message about meeting Barney at McLaren's bar on October 12, 2016 at 3:45a.m. Currently, the line is a busy signal.

Of course, the writers found a way to tie this into the show. After holding up his sign, Barney's phone won't stop ringing with calls and texts, which is good--at first, until Barney realizes that there's always someone better than the girl who's on the other end of the line. Cue a string of girls that Barney brings back to his apartment but is unable to seal the deal with because the phone keeps ringing, even after Barney tosses it into the garbage. This was funny for awhile, but the incessant ringing got annoying. Then again, I laughed at the ringtone for 'do your ears hang low?' which later switched to a Western tune, which was particularly appropriate since Barney had hidden the phone in Ted and Robin's piano.

Everyone else was busy setting up dates, too. Ted asks Marshall and Lily to set him up with someone--after hearing Ranjit's tale of arranged marriage--while Robin thinks she agreed to a date with co-anchor Don while on live TV. When Robin reveals that Don actually asked her to a party, the group agrees that Robin doesn't really hate Don, and that she, in fact, likes him and wants to date him.

It's the whole rabbit versus the duck conundrum, Ted explains. He shows off an optical illusion, explaining that at first you see a rabbit, and then you see a duck. This, of course, is compared to relationships: at first you think it's someone/something you hate--a rabbit--only to later realize it's someone/something you love, a duck. This sets off a huge fast-forwarded argument, but eventually, it's agreed upon that ducks are more lovable. Talk about a crazy relationship theorem, more bizarre than most on HIMYM.

Moving on... before Ted's double date, Robin asks him to go to the party with him. He claims he'll "duck out" if it looks like something might happen between the two duck--er, lovebirds. Robin opens Don's apartment door and--voila!--Don is trying out the Naked Man, which fails to win over Robin, effectively turning Don into a Playboy bunny, aka a rabbit.

Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily forgot to set up a date for Ted. Lucky for them, they get their hands on Barney's phone. Fortunately for Ted, it's the girl who can put her leg around her neck and open a beer bottle with her foot. Unfortunately, she needs a visa... and Ted found and became addicted to Barney's phone. Luckily for everyone, a fight over the phone results in Lily tossing it into a pitcher of beer.

The episode wraps up with Ted and Robin sitting in a darkened living room, watching TV together. This moment seemed like it might turn into another re-return with Ted and Robin, but thankfully it didn't.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty funny episode--but notice how much they've used plot devices from previous episodes?
- Fast-forwarding through a discussion, a la trying to figure out the best candy metaphor to describe what single-life is like in NYC.
Barney: Yes! It's like being in a candy store! You just walk right in and grab yourself
some Whoppers! Yeah! ... Is Whoppers the best one?
Ted: Mounds.
Barney: Milk Duds. (Season 2, Episode 2)
- Ranjit appearing to help Barney out in meeting all his women. He first appeared in Season 1, Episode 1 as a cab-driver. Later, he was their limo driver on New Year's Eve (Season 1, Episode 11), and he's appeared sporadically in other seasons as well.
- The Naked Man. Duh. This was one of the best episodes of a lackluster Season 4.
- Lawyered! Originally spoken by Marshall in Season 1, Mary the Paralegal--and used sporadically throughout HIMYM since, but this was the first time Ted used it. Thankfully, he asked Marshall's permission.

There's nothing wrong with using and doing stuff that's been done in earlier (better) seasons and episodes. In fact, I like that they keep things continuous, and what better way to pull off a great episode then using things that worked well before?

Then again, this episode ushered in very little progress for yet another week. Barney, as usual, acts the player part. Ted still struggles to have a normal date. Marshall and Lily act as cute matchmakers and realize how hard the single life is. But then there's Robin.

At the end of the episode, Robin is startled to see that Don is wearing pants, because he knows that she deserves a great co-anchor. And Don is back to being a lovable duck, bill and all. Progress on the Robin front!

What did you think of the episode and the latest relationship theory? Do you think Don and Robin's relationship will go anywhere? What crazy shenanigans will Barney be up to next? And will Ted ever date again!? Share your thoughts below!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

For the Love of Books

If you know me, you know I'm a voracious reader. I always need to be reading something, and if I don't have a novel handy? I read cereal boxes, read over people's shoulders on the el. Lately, this book-itis has gotten worse, all thanks to Young Adult fiction. I'm zipping through novels, caught up in some crazy but amazing, intelligent, tersely-written plots. And since I'm reading them so quickly, I feel like I'm reading even more than before. Two books in a week? No problem. Well, sometimes. I do write every once in awhile, you know, even if I haven't graced the pages of this blog as often as I used do.

Can you tell how much I've fallen in love with YA lit? I started reading it because my WIP Through Charlotte's Eyes is YA, and now I've fallen head over heels. I hope I too can join the ranks of these mighty fine YA novelists one day.

So, what have I read? I wish I kept better track, because I know this list doesn't encompass it all. But, here goes, in no particular order, all the YA I've read in the past 6 months, give or take.

(Also, I promise to get better about keeping track of everything I read. I want to remember all this awesomeness.)

A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth Bunce; Bunce takes the Rumpelstiltskin tale and turns it on its head.

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore; I didn't read fantasy before this, but I loved Katsa, a young girl graced with fighting abilities, who is tasked with saving her kingdom.

Me, the Missing and the Dead by Jenny Valentine; Lucas Swain thinks a woman in an urn, Violet, is trying to tell him something about where his father disappeared to. Expect to cry.

Sovay by Celia Rees; Set in England and France during the French Revolution, this novel follows Sovay, who dresses as a man and acts as a highway robber--until her father is arrested for treason.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson; After waking up from a coma, Jenna starts to put the pieces together of what happened to her, and who she is now. A stunning look at the power of science.

Madapple by Christina Meldrum; Brought up in a home far from the city, Aslaug isn't ready to leave when her mother unexpectedly dies. But once in the city, she starts unraveling the truth about her family. One of the most bizarre reads--which isn't a bad thing--of all the YA I've read so far.

13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher; Another tear-jerker. Clay Jenson receives cassette tapes from Hannah, who recently committed suicide. The tapes tell the story of who she blames and why she chose to end her life.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green; Laugh out loud funny and a great introduction to John Green. Colin is a prodigy who has only dated Katherines. The book tells the tale of a road trip with his best friend, and all the discoveries that come along the way.

The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman; Sisters Katie and Michaela react in different ways when their family gets uprooted from NYC and move to rural Fir Lake.

Summer of my German Soldier by Bette Greene; An oldie but a goodie. 12-year-old Patty helps Anton, an escaped POW, hide and eventually escape. And this short description doesn't give justice to this emotional book.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M. T. Anderson; This one doesn't read like YA, but it's a compelling story about a boy who was raised as an experiment around the time of the American Revolution.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; Narrated by Death, this tale tells the story of Liesel Meminger, who steals books in Nazi Germany. Gripping through the dramatic end.

Hunger Games & Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; A heart-pounding thriller about a young girl who takes the place of her sister in the hunger games, where everyone fights to the death. I sacrificed sleep to finish this book, that's how good it is. Its sequel, Catching Fire, started out a bit slower, but after I finished? Well, let's just say I CAN. NOT. WAIT. for the third book to come out this summer. Seriously. If someone somehow manages to get an ARC - LET ME KNOW.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins; Hooked by her Hunger Games series, I started her first series of books. While geared to younger readers, this is another fantasy book that had me hooked from page one. It's a spin on Alice in Wonderland, had Alice been a boy who lived in New York City and who fell down a grate into a world of humans and 6-foot creatures, like cockroaches, spiders, rats, and more.

Mercy's Mill by Betty Levin; Sarah doesn't like moving to rural Massachusetts, but she's soon distracted when she meets Jethro, a boy wrapped in mystery, who claims that he travelled through time to save Mercy.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness; Gory, bloody--and incredibly riveting. Todd Hewitt needs to escape Prentisstown when he stumbles upon something he shouldn't have. But his escape is made a lot more difficult considering everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts. The first in a series, again. (And yet more books to add to my reading list).

Dinoverse by Scott Ciencin; A fast-paced novel about a boy and three other junior high students who travel back in time and become dinosaurs. While the reading level for this book felt younger than most, I was hooked by the characters and the story.

When I was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten; Successfully written in the perspective of a young boy, Burt, this novel shows the difficulties between literal-minded parents and literal-minded kids. It used to be marketed as YA but no longer is.

The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost; Another first in a series! When searching for his missing father, Sam tumbles into the past, not once but three times into totally different places and eras.

Phew! That's what I remember reading, but I'm sure I've forgotten something. I've also read a handful of 'adult' novels--like a book from the Mistress of the Art of Death series--but they haven't held my attention as much as all this YA fiction has.

Do you have any YA recommendations? I'd love to hear about them, even though my reading list is huge!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What a Week on HIMYM

The Perfect Week
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 14

When the gang has the makings for an incredibly lousy week, they take joy in Barney's latest conquest: sleeping with seven women in seven days, aka the Perfect Week.

So, what makes a bad week in HIMYM land?

He's got a whole new set of students this semester, meaning none of them have heard his MAGGIE acronym yet. When rattling off names on his student roster, he starts berating the class for adding a fake name that lacks in cleverness. Unfortunately for him, and his student, there actually is a girl named 'Cook Pu.' Commence the jokes now.

After going on a horrible date with a random Dale, she doesn't understand why he won't call her back for a second date. Enough with the Robin-is-hotter-than-everyone jokes. Enough.

Marshall & Lily
What's with Marshall and Lily not sharing a burger like they usually do at McLaren's? Since Barney and Robin are no longer together, as well as Ted and Stella, Ted and Robin, Ted and Victoria, the two have been on the hunt for new couple friends. When their latest couple date found out that Marshmellow and Lilypad share a toothbrush, they think that it's, well, gross. As does everyone else. And it only makes it worse when they learn that they shared a toothbrush with Ted for 8 years and even Robin, on occasion, when she dated Ted. Oops.

But the main event of the night was Barney, who got to tell the story of his seven nights, to his imaginary interviewer, sportscaster Jim Nantz.

At first, I thought this storyline would be too reminiscent of "The Playbook" episode. In ways it was overdone, but at least this time Barney had a bit more character depth than he's had as of late.

According to Marshall, Barney is being blamed for a merger falling through at work, and he'll find out on Friday if he'll be kicked to the curb. As is usual for Barney, he isn't dealing with what might happen, rather, he's scouting out women so that he can overcome the odds and have a perfect week--just like a perfect game in baseball.

Of course, Lily doesn't think sleeping with women will solve any of Barney's problems. Their friendship dynamic is one of the best on the show, with Lily acting as the hellish angel on Barney's shoulder. She elaborates on the worst-case scenario, that if he lost his apartment he could come live with her and Marshall (that plot would be nothing less than awesome, in my opinion).

But by the end of the episode Lily realizes why they need Barney to succeed: just like in sports, they need a winner after the week they've all been having. Lily dives to the ground of McLaren's, effectively stopping Barney's seventh girl from walking away and joining NY Yankee's Nick Swisher at the corner table.

And then Nantz disintegrates in a poof of smoke and Barney has to deal with reality. Lucky for him, he gets to keep his job.

Yet another Barney-centric episode, and while we saw hints of feeling in Barney's exterior at the thought of becoming unemployed, what else did we get? It feels like the writers are stalling, biding time... but for what? The Mother reveal? I've been fine with not knowing who she is yet, but the storylines need to get a move on in other ways. Robin's jokes about everyone wanting her? Old. More stories about how close Marshall and Lily are? Been there, done that. Ted just being around for random bodily function jokes? Not usual for him, but c'mon. Let's have some more episodes that aren't all about Barney and his women.

Again, despite my criticisms, HIMYM still manages to pull off a few good laughs, especially when Present Ted says that he would never tell the story of Barney's 'perfect week' to his kids; fast-forward to Future Ted with his kids on the couch, listening to that very story.

What did you think of the latest installment of HIMYM? What sorts of storylines do you want to see for the characters? Share your thoughts below!

Friday, January 29, 2010

What I'm Up To

Writing on this blog seems to be inversely proportional to writing my novel as of late. I'm working on balancing this out some - as a goal mind you, not as a New Year's Resolution that I'm not good at keeping. I've got a lot on my plate lately, though, it seems. Between working more hours at my day job; working on my novel, hot dog articles, and other food pieces, as well as trying to keep some semblance of a social life, it's a difficult juggling act.

That said, I'm making some great progress on my novel. I'm still about 1/4 through the rewrite (which is what I told my twitter followers a couple weeks ago), but that's only because a week ago, I realized that some of my timeline didn't land right. I moved an important scene earlier, and that changed the build-up to it. Earlier this week, I finished those tweaks and I now feel that I can continuing pushing ahead and making more gains.

I'm not on track as I'd like to be to meet my 'finish draft 3.5 before I leave for Paris' deadline, but I still think I can meet my next goal of having a complete - almost final! - draft by April 21, 2010.

And let me tell you, I'm so glad I have this deadline. My writing partner and me set this deadline just before Christmas, and we're both trying really hard to meet it. But there's been other developments there, too. Our writing partnership has turned into a club! That's right, another writer has joined us. She's a newbie to the writing world, but she is incredibly inspiring. An idea struck her a couple weeks ago and she's been powering through the first draft of her novel. After a week of outlining, and then about two weeks worth of writing, she's officially about 17,000 words in already. See? Told ya so. Inspiring.

So, my Wednesday night Writing Club (which actually met Tuesday instead of Wednesday for this week only) is now officially a 'club' with three people. It's small, great group, and I know I wouldn't be as far along as I am now without them. And now I'm getting all cheesy, so I'll wrap things up.

I'm finishing up some revisions on Chapter 8 tonight, then it's back to Chapter 12 and continuing on to the rest of the novel this weekend.

What about you? What are your writing goals? Have you set any self-imposed deadlines?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Marshall tries to make Lily jealous

How I Met Your Mother, Episode 13

Lily and Marshall's relationship has always been strong. Even when they broke off their engagement in Season 1, Lily moved to and back from San Francisco, and Marshall dated the coffee-shop girl in Season 2, I could never, ever see Lily or Marshall with anyone else. As quirky characters, Lilypad and Marshall work. But their relationship got tested in Episode 13, Jenkins, when Marshall befriends a female co-worker.

(Sorry for the delay in posting; I wasn't able to watch earlier this week due to house/dog/cat-sitting... and no access to CBS).

But, I didn't buy the impetus for the storyline. Just last week when a new hot bartender showed up at McLaren's, Marshall proved to Lily that she was absolutely the only one for him. So, why did Marshall expect Lily to get jealous when he learns that all of Marshall's stories about a new co-worker - in which he never uses he/she pronouns - are about a female named Jenkins?

With Lily's lack of response, Marshall becomes determined to make her jealous, to the point that Lily didn't buy it when Marshall (truthfully) tells her that Jenkins kissed him - WITH tongue! Lily's reaction, I could buy, considering how much she trusts Marshall and how strong their relationship is, but the whole storyline ended up 'meh' for me.

That's not to say that this episode wasn't a total waste. With Lily and Marshall's plot, we gained some new relationship phrases (without the help of Barney, thank you very much). In every relationship, Robin and Ted explain, there's a Reacher and a Settler. As the names imply, the Settler is someone who could do better, while the Reacher won't get any better than who they've landed. Who's who in the pairing of Marshmellow and Lilypad? After a heated debate - with Marshall's screaming turning into a request for split-pea soup - Lily finally concedes that IF they were really to fit this theory, then she'd be the Settler.

While the Marshall/Lily Plot A storyline was lackluster, Plot B provided some laughs. Robin gets a tad-bit full of herself when she learns that Ted's class enjoys watching her crack of dawn show. But why do they tune in? The 'But, um...' drinking game all the college kids play. Every time she says 'but, um' during an interview, everyone takes a shot. Could it be? Does Robin, the woman who aspires to be on national TV, really say 'but, um' THAT often?

Apparently, she does. When Ted and Barney put it to the test, they end up finishing an entire bottle of Grey Goose. Not to mention, Ted's tie ends up around his head.

What did you think of the episode and NPH's directorial debut? Did it bother you that Barney barely had a storyline? (Unless you count him continually making jokes about attempting to sleep with Jenkins. Apparently, that's what Barney has been relegated back to... nothing more than a womanizing player. So much for character development for him).

What'd you think of Robin's lack of professionalism with the 'but, um's and running away an interviewee just to get back at the college kids? And, how much did you love Lily punching out Jenkins at the end? Because I totally did. Share your thoughts below!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nothing Suits Barney Like A Suit

Girls vs Suits
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 12 (aka Episode 100!!!)

In Girls vs Suits, Ted sees the ankle of his future wife, and Barney gives up suits. Hah. Like the second part of that would ever happen.

HIMYM started 2010 with a bang. Everyone in the gang had a bit of a story - even if it was Lily's 'hot for girls' talk that she's been doing a lot this season, Marshall reassuring Lily that she is the hottest woman, and Robin not liking the fact that the new bartender makes her the number 2 hot girl in McLaren's.

Ted... TED!... has a big storyline this time around, with tons of reveals about who the 'Mother' is. He meets Cindy at Columbia, after confiscating some frat guys' beer (except for the Hard Lemonade), and they instantly hit it off. We learn that she's a PhD student, knows Ted already because she was in that Econ class he accidentally 'taught' on the first day (!!!), and she always goes for cute idiots, like Ted.

But on their first date, as Future Ted talks about how you sometimes just know you're in the right place, we learn that Cindy is not the Mother... but her awesome roommate, who all Cindy's dates fall for, is. Ted claims he won't be like the other guys. Oops. But that mis-step soon doesn't matter. Cindy calls it off, worried about losing her scholarship if she dates a professor. But we know Ted. He can't just leave it at that.

He returns to Cindy's apartment, where her roommate is just about to get out of the shower. Ted ends up saying he likes the three things in Cindy's bedroom that belong to her roommate - and so it's vamoose for him, but not before he forgets the yellow umbrella he brought with him. And not before he sees his future's wife ankle as she goes into her bedroom.

Where was Barney in all this? Trying to land the hot bartender, of course, since he's amazingly not slept with one yet. Problem is? She doesn't go for guys in suits. So, he (gasp!) gives up suits. He seems to do this pretty easily, coming to the bar the next day in just a t-shirt and jeans. But, alas, his affair with suits is still, expectedly, not over. In a moment of weakness, he goes to the bathroom, where he's stashed a secret suit in the door. He puts it on, and RIPPP!

He cradles the suit as he runs to his tailor, played by none other than Tim Gunn. Unfortunately, the suit is dead, but it's buttons can be used for another. But what a perfect play for Barney! He brings an urn of the suit's ashes to the bar, where he's finally able to snag the bartender out of pity. Back at his place, though, she accidently walks into his suit closet. She then demands he choose: her... or the suits?

Cue one amazing dance number, created by the choreographers from the TV show Glee. Everyone in the gang participates in "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit", with NPH, of course, at the center. It's big, it's awesome, and it's totally HIMYM.

But Barney still ends up sleeping with the bartender, claiming that he'll get rid of his suits the next day. Yeah. Right.

I loved the hints about the mother, and I, for one, don't mind if they don't give her a face quite yet. With this storyline, Ted finally entertained and showed why he's the main character of the show... but then there's Barney and his musical number. Which, don't get me wrong, was laugh-out-loud funny, but we've lost the tiny bit of sensitiveness we once had from Barney.

What happened to character progress on HIMYM? Lily seems stuck on the same note. Robin is stuck at her job, even while she's convinced of her hotness. Marshall, well, Marshall just hung around. Barney is always going for the girl. While Ted is back on track, I hope the writers keep up with the character development, get them doing new things but still keeping the characters true to what they've developed for them over the years.

What did you think about all the hints? Or are you just ready to find out who the Mother is and be done with it? Did you ever believe Barney would give up his suits? Do you want to see more from Marshall and Lily? Share your thoughts below!