Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yearly Roundup

I'm taking off from the blog for the holidays, so this will be my last post until after the New Year. I thought that since 2012's nearly over and lots of companies in the publishing industry are releasing their best-of lists for the year, a compilation of best-ofs would be a great place to end the year. Need some holiday gift ideas? Or just bored? See below for a roundup of recommendations.

Goodreads Choice Awards (awards decided by actual readers in 20 different genres)

Hopefully these lists will keep you busy until I return in the New Year. Hope everyone has a happy holiday filled with lots of reading by firelight!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Judge a Book by its Cover

Generally we're told not to follow the advice in the title of this post. But let's be honest, we all do it, at least when it comes to actual book-shopping. When I'm looking for something new to read at a brick-and-mortar, I scan the spines and covers of unknown books. If it looks interesting, I pick it up and read the jacket copy. If that's good, I scan the first page, then make my decision. But none of them would've caught my attention in the first place if it weren't for the cover. My shopping's similar on Amazon or any other online retailer, and I tend not to even consider titles that don't provide a thumbnail image of the cover.

Sometimes it's okay to judge a book by its cover, as long as we're talking literally and not metaphorically. There's so many books out there--especially with the growing plethora of digital publishers--that we have to start the narrow-down somewhere, and what easier place to start than with the cover?

This week The Atlantic Wire updated their Y.A. for Grownups blog with a list of 25 of the Most Wonderful Book Covers of the Year, including covers from some of my favorite YA writers like John Green and Maggie Stiefvater. If you're looking for a shortlist of what to check out this year and feel like judging a smattering of books by their covers, start with this list. You'll likely find that the words inside will match.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Best Books of the Year

Can you believe it's already mid-November? Thanksgiving's just around the corner, and Christmas is just around the corner from that, and then New Year's arrives in a flash...and then 2012 is over. Was it as busy a year for you as it was for me? Did you get a chance to do everything that you wanted to do? I doubt it. Most of us live in an increasingly fast-paced life of have-to's and should-do's, a life that doesn't afford the downtime to tackle the mounting list of things we'd actually like to do. And if that's any indication of a pattern, 2013 will go by even faster.

So take some time off this holiday season to stop and enjoy the finer things in life. Like reading. Even if fiction isn't your gig, there's gotta be something out there that could change your life, some beautiful book with crisp white pages just waiting for you to crinkle them. Maybe this year was too busy to even gather up a reading wish lis?. No problem; Publisher's Weekly has done the work for you. Check out their Best Books of 2012 for some great ideas.

Whatever you pick, even if it's not reading, make sure to do something slow this season, something that will let you take a break from the hubbub. Unfortunately most of us don't get to hibernate all winter to preserve energy for the coming year, but we still need the holiday season to store up fat--especially mental and psychological fat. Fatten up your brain this holiday season with a great book.


Friday, November 9, 2012

YA for A's

Young adult fiction isn't just for young adults anymore. Sure, maybe in my YA days it was. The lone and depressingly skinny YA bookshelf in the big-box chains barely held enough books to keep my voracious appetite occupied for a single summer. These days, young adult fiction is everywhere. Airports. Grocery stores. Everywhere that before you could only find formulaic mysteries and generic romance mass-markets. Today, the YA section in most bookstores rivals the general fiction section in both size and scope. And not all YA books are juvenile, in these increasingly-liberal days.

If you're past the age of 21 and haven't jumped on the Twilight or Hunger Games or insert any other YA phenomenon here bandwagon yet, maybe you just haven't found the right gateway book. Try this list for starters: 11 YA Novels Every Adult Should Read. It's got a good mix of modern and classic YA fiction, all of which will be worth your time and deal with issues far beyond the standard girl-meets-vampire. Inside these pages you'll read about real issues that used to be the sole terrain of jaded, overstressed adults, but now has trickled down to the younger generations. Good or bad societal sign? You be the judge. Either way, you're in for some entertaining reading.

Are there any other books you'd add to this list?


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One Last Dose of Halloween Horror

There's only about 15 minutes left in one of my favorite holidays of the year. A lot of people didn't really get to celebrate Halloween this year due to Frankenstorm's vigorous assault, either because they were in its path or were absorbed in the wake of news it left behind. To everyone personally affected by the storm, I am deeply sorry.

Real horrors like Frankenstorm we hope will only come around once in a blue moon, and with minimal impact. But there's fictional horror all year long, and for a holiday like Halloween, being festive means celebrating, or at least appreciating, the macabre. So when life goes back to normal, celebrate your own belated Halloween by enjoying a few tales of woe (hopefully) deeper than your own. (To enjoy a few juicy tidbits, check out's "Tales to Make Your Skin Crawl", a compilation from several different writers in different magazines across the past few years.)

Halloween is a special holiday for me. I've always loved horror films and stories, but these days, there's something even better. For me (especially since having kids), Halloween has become a sort of mini-Thanksgiving. Stay up late to watch a creepy movie I know will keep me up at night? That's okay, because it also gives me a reason to be thankful--my life is not that movie, and likely never will be. Luckily, our lives are generally filled not with weapon-wielding madmen, but with holiday realities--chubby toddlers in nylon costumes, five extra pounds of candy-induced fat, and lots of big orange pumpkins. It's why we enjoy Halloween in the first place; we get to be someone else for a day, live vicariously through someone else's eyes in a story or film, flirt with the dark side without consequence.

So enjoy those spoils of Halloween all year round if you can, and be thankful that life is not fiction!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Once Upon a Time (Again)...

Did you ever wonder what happened to E.T. after he took the spaceship back home? Or if Scarlett and Rhett ever got back together? You might be surprised to hear that these questions actually have answers. M. Asher Cantrell of mental_floss compiled a list of little-known book sequels to famous books and movies called "11 Book Sequels You Probably Didn't Know Existed."He includes sequels to such literary classics as Lois Lowry's The Giver and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, as well as some Disney-snuffed classics like 101 Dalmations and The Jungle Book (and yes, I know that there may be film versions, but they don't follow the true sequels).

I didn't know most of these sequels existed. I say most, because I've actually read Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett, the authorized sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. I went through a (very) brief romance phase in late high school, which is when this book made my list. Spoiler alert: all true romances have happy endings, right?

On the book front, I am finishing up the final edits today and aim to start querying agents by this coming Monday. The time is finally nigh! Keep your fingers crossed for me!


Monday, October 15, 2012

And I'm Back!

So I've been absent again. But there's a really good reason this time. Remember how I rushed through the end of my novel early in the summer and tracked my daily word count? I did that because I'd just found out I was pregnant, and I knew the morning sickness would kick in around 6 weeks, which would hit a couple days after the end date for my writing goal. As expected, the sickness (which is really all-day, "morning sickness" is really a misnomer) hit right on time. Which means I didn't have the energy to write pretty much all summer, even on the blog.

But now I'm back! I'm about to be 21 weeks pregnant (with a little girl named Charlotte Blain) and am now staying home full-time, so I am officially a fulltime freelance writer and photographer. I've been letting my book sit all summer on purpose, so that I can return to it fresh, ready to edit it for submission this fall. Which I'm starting on Wednesday (yay!) with a dedicated, all-day read-through. By the end of this month, my goal is to have submitted it to 10 agents. That's a tall order, considering I also have to prep 10 separate query letters and 2 different types of synopses, on top of having the manuscript in a submission-ready state, but now I have more time to make it happen. If I could write 1500+ words/day while holding a full-time job, surely I can do it as a stay-at-home mom! Well, as long as my darling toddler son cooperates, that is. :)

My plan is to write here weekly, giving updates on my progress, as well as what will hopefully be interesting fiction-related tidbits. At least until around February 26, when I'll likely disappear for a while again while I get used to having a newborn addition to the family.

Thanks for everyone's support along the way, I look forward to getting back on track!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Word Count: Day 9

Around 1800 words today! But still haven't reached The End yet. One more day and I think I'll be done! TJ

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Word Count: Day 8

1788 words today. I'm particularly proud of this one, seeing as how I spent all day throwing a shower for a close friend, and got home well after midnight. I wrote in the car on the way back, and for another half hour or so at home, to make my word count for the day. I know it's technically tomorrow, but since I haven't slept yet, we can let that technicality slide, right?

1 day left! Tomorrow I write the ending. Or at least 1640 words of it.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Word Count: Day 7

1841 words today. 'Twas a busy day, very proud of myself for making it work. Finished just in time. :) 2 more days to go!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Word Count: Day 6

1650 today. This has been the roughest one yet. Straight to bed for me.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Word Count: Day 5

1656 words today. And I am sooooo unbelievably tired.

But it's encouraging! Meeting my goal so far for 5 days in a row, despite work and headaches and other random things, shows me that I don't have to wait for the muse to hit. All I have to do is sit down with my MacBook and force the words to materialize. Which gives me hope that over the next 4 days--my final 4--I'll be able to stay on track, even though I have a lot going on in those days. The race always gets harder towards the end, right? Keep your fingers crossed that I'll still be able to cross the finish line!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Word Count: Day 4

1686 words! I'm on a roll! I'm exhausted, but all is going as planned, and that's all that matters.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Word Count: Day 3

1687 words today! Just barely came in at par. Really wanted to stop altogether after about 750 words, but forced myself to go on.

I had a tough day. Headache, bad day at work, let the tiny violins play...still, I made my goal. The day's looking up and it's only 10:30!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Word Count: Day 2

1888 words today. Nice even number, repetitive in form and beautiful in nature, because it means that I made my goal again.

I'll take it.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Word Count: Day 1

Drumroll please...1680 words added today! Easily met my goal. All it took was putting the kid to bed and turning off the TV, working in peace and near-silence, save for my instrumental background. On to bed to prepare for tomorrow's 1640+!


Time to Crack Down

1640 words per day. That's what I have to face up to at this point. I've already extended my novel rewrite deadline twice now, by months at a time. Now, it's time to crack down.

I'm aiming to finish this draft by the end of next weekend, which means that by midnight on Sunday, July 1, I should be typing the words THE END.

I did some simple calculations to determine that, including today, this goal gives me 9 more days to write. I'm aiming for 70k words total, and so far have just over 55k.

Which leaves me at 1640 words per day. That's what I'm going to do every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, until THE END is the next logical step. Then I'll take a break, let it simmer, and start edits later in the summer.

There will be challenges. I have a 2-year-old with a birthday party to plan. I have a full-time job and do freelance writeography. I have family about to come to town and stay with us. I'm helping to host a baby shower and doing a photo shoot in this time.

But there will always be excuses not to finish the book. For the next 9 days, those excuses just won't fly.

I'll check in daily to let everyone know how it's going. Hold me to this!


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fictitious Food in "Fictitious Dishes"

Ever wondered what dinner with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would look like? Or how Alice's Wonderland tabletop really looks? Photographer and former editor Dinah Fried set out to answer these questions with her series of photographs depicting the fictional meals of some of literature's most beloved characters. Take a peek at her work at Fictitious Dishes.

The images struck me because some writers simply leave out food altogether, as if it's completely irrelevant to the story, instead of one of the most important aspects of human living. Sure, food's not all that fascinating in writing, but a touch of it here and there makes our characters more real. More human.

Take The Twilight Saga's Bella Swan for example. Despite all the talk of her being a vegetarian, she doesn't seem to eat much throughout the series. I bet a lot of Twihards would like to see her step out of her book character shoes and into her human ones at some point by chowing down on a pint of Ben n' Jerry's (like the rest of us) while she's pining over her lost loves.

Just a little food for thought.

What other meals would you like to see depicted?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What I Learned About Writing From Reading a Blog Post

This week I was so moved by something that I have little to say about it, but wanted to post anyway. It's a blog post about writing, but if you're an artist in any medium--or even if you just love something so intensely that your life revolves around it, no matter what that thing is--you'll find a lesson in this post. Check it out and let me know what it does for you.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Are Classics Age-Proof?

Today at work we threw some chain-smoking, borderline skinny-dipping college kids out of our pool. As they lurked away from their wet t-shirt contest and tossed their (still lit) ciggies in my freshly-laid pine straw, I narrowed my eyes and shook my fist and said "Be gone, you whippersnappers!"

Okay, so that last part's a fib. I did narrow my eyes and glare as they stormed off, one young lady cursing at me over her shoulder for daring to throw them out of a pool they'd taken so much trouble sneaking into. And I'll admit I felt a tingle of glee watching them slide into their cars and drive out of my community. There, I thought, puffing up like a bird. I've protected my residents from these ne'er-do-wells.

And then I thought, When did I get so old? It hasn't been all that long ago that it was me sneaking into apartment pools and glaring at the old farts who had the nerve to tell me to get lost. Barring some stretch marks and a few extra pounds I'd rather keep hidden, and a 9-to-5 office job paired with a 5-to-9 parenting job, oh and a mortgage and a car payment and a 401(k)...where did my youthful carelessness go?

We all outgrow our youth eventually. And apparently we fiction writers outgrow the youths before ours, even. According to a Dartmouth College study of literature (reviewed by The Guardian), modern writers are starting to sound more like their peers, and less like their 18th and 19th century ancestors (aka the writers of classic literature). This isn't surprising. As much as I love Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and many of their peers, I can totally see why they have a hard time competing against the siren of today's primetime television and summer blockbuster films. Modern readers want action, drama, suspense, intrigue...and all of it at warp speed. The fiction of yore just can't keep up.

Are we losing something by ignoring our literary ancestors? That remains to be seen, although I'd venture to say we can never learn enough from our past. As long as we keep a broad-minded approach--appreciating the past, studying the present, preparing for the future--we can maintain a careful balance.

It's okay to grow up. To get old. As long as we don't forget where we came from.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fiction's Fabulous First Lines

Here I am, with a sliver of time to work on my novel, and what am I doing instead? Cleaning out my Gmail inbox. (My characters and I are fighting.)

That's where I came across this article from the Observer: The 10 best first lines in fiction. What better way to avoid my own work than to study that of others? (Counts as work anyway, right?)

The list includes a spectrum of writers, mostly classics with some modern-ish stuff sprinkled in here and there. It's interesting because by the standards of contemporary mainstream fiction, many of these first lines wouldn't be great first lines at all. They wouldn't catch a reader's eye, much less an agent's or editor's. Readers are too technology-driven, too fast-paced, to slow down for the likes of Jane Austen and James Joyce, no matter how beautiful the writing. Today's readers are inundated with visual and auditory stimuli, which means books have a lot to compete with.

So slow down. Read the list. Study the antique-y photos. Enjoy the slideshow. Revel in the complicated sentence structures of yesteryear.

At least for a few minutes.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

King's Killer Crop

For some reason I've been on a horror kick in picking my audiobooks recently. Maybe I'm just missing The Walking Dead and American Horror Story since their seasons ended. At any rate, for my next line-up I've recruited World War Z by Max Brooks (ghoulish in a good way, so far), and some classic Stephen King. After all, what's a horror-thon without some Stephen King in the mix? He's pretty much required reading in the genre. The hardest part is picking what to read out of his ever-expanding list of books and short story collections. That's where the checklist below can help out...

The Complete Works: Ranking All 62 Stephen King Books by Gilbert Cruz for

Spoiler alert: topping the list is The Stand, and I can't say I agree with the choice. Personally I'd go with Carrie, the story that put Stephen King on the map. But this is a great place to start.

What's your favorite horror story? And does it come in audio? :)


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Almost Over the Hill

This summer I'll be 30. It's hard to believe, because in some ways I still feel half that age. But watching all my friends turn 30 over the past few years, one after the other (I'm the last of my line) made me face the inevitable: I'm grown up. Not growing up anymore. Grown up.

You can still call yourself a kid in your 20s. At 30, all bets are off.

When I was 20, being 30 sounded old. It made me think of crow's feet and 9-to-5's and suburban monotony. Little did I know then that when I finally reached 30, those would be the things I actually wanted. (Okay, maybe not the crow's feet. I draw the line somewhere.)

30 doesn't seem like such a big deal these days, but I'm sure I'll still mourn the death of my 20s. In what other decade can you stay out all night and still make it to work the next morning on time, without looking like a Walking Dead extra? Or dance at a wedding reception without being laughed off the floor?

At 30, you're expected to act like an adult. You're expected to enjoy grown-up things like paying mortgages and shopping for SUVs, to accept your slowly sagging skin and ever-expanding middle like badges of Grown Scouts pride.

I say all of this just to say that I have a mere 3 months left in my roaring 20s. Just 90 some-odd fly-by-night days before I join the ranks of countless grown-ups who've bravely gone before.

I have a lot to do before then. Like finishing the list of "10 Books Every Girl Should Read in her Twenties" posted by blogger Alexandra Churchill on I've read exactly 2 of the 10 books she lists--I have a lot of catching up to do.

Do you?


Monday, April 16, 2012

Long Time No Write

That title's a bit of a misnomer. It's not that I haven't been writing. I just haven't been writing on my blog. Not that I've forgotten to...every week I think, I really should write about something. But then I pick up another Writer's Digest how-to book and set the taunting Macbook aside.


This weekend I was out with some friends, and a friend that I haven't seen in a while said, "Hey, I've been following your blog." And my first thought was, People actually read that? My next thought was guilt for having ignored Fictiffous for so long, as if we had this great fling that inexplicably fizzled out. (I know what you're thinking...two months equals fizzled out? But in the land of blogdom, two months might as well be an eternity. Interest is so ephemeral.)

The problem isn't that I haven't been writing enough. It's that I've actually been writing too much. I'm already over 20,000 words into the new draft of my book, which is pretty good, considering I really only hunkered down to start the rewrite a couple weeks ago. And work a full-time job for which I spend at least eight hours a week commuting. And require no less than nine hours of sleep to function. And take care of a toddler alone most nights.

The rewrite's been a complete one so far. I haven't kept any of the original scenes. Not a one.

The story I'm writing now barely resembles the one I wrote before. I've eliminated entire plotlines and wiped several characters completely out of existence, while creating others out of thin air. I'm basically playing God with these poor characters, who are forced to hang on my every word to see where life will take them next.

My deadline is the end of May. Do I have an agent already? Haven't attempted yet. The deadline is self-imposed. If I don't set a deadline, this baby's not getting rewritten. Birthday parties and pay-cable TV are just too enticing. Without discipline, I'll spend my post-toddler evenings parked in front of the boob tube or sipping lemon drop martinis. I've had to make spending QT with the Macbook my priority.

But Fictiffous, I've missed you...can we give it another shot?


Sunday, February 19, 2012

...and Back Home Again

The much-anticipated conference is over. I'm both sad and relieved. I had a great time and met some nice people, one agent and one author in particular that I especially enjoyed. I got really helpful feedback on the impossible-to-edit book, which I've pretty much decided to completely rewrite. As in, from scratch. Daunting, I know. But it must be done. One famous YA author I met raved over the book and said after the rewrite, I'll be ready to query agents. (As we would say in my family...yippee!)

That was just what I needed to hear to get my butt back in gear. I'd been getting so discouraged with that manuscript. But how can I set aside a project after hearing something like that from a successful, published author whose work I know and admire? (Especially after another industry professional I met kindly let me know that the concept for my next book is already tired. Oops! Back to the drawing board. At least I haven't written that much of the dang thing. Might as well go back to Project One.)

And let's face it, spending my non-conference time in Austin with one of my dearest friends was well worth the extra days. I haven't seen her in over a year, and before that in about two get the picture. It was nice to catch up. And I didn't even wreck the fancy new car she let me drive around all weekend.

I'm exhausted. I'm elated. And I'm glad it's all over. Now, the real work can begin.

I have to stop being lazy about that book now. No more excuses! No more edit-me-out-of-here. Just edit-me-into-print. That will be my new motto.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Conference Bound...

Finally the time is here! Tomorrow I leave for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators regional conference in Austin. It's my first conference, so I'm excited, and nervous, and ecstatic, and terrified, and the list goes on...

I didn't make my editing deadline for the conference on the last book I wrote. Surprise surprise. I'm almost thinking I need to leave that project behind for a bit and focus on a new one. Every time I write something new, I think what I wrote even as near as the previous day is total crap.

That manuscript feels like total crap to me now. So maybe it's time to start over.

Sigh. It's okay. This weekend I'll meet one of my top agent choices, and who knows? Maybe she'll see potential in me. The many books I've yet to write which won't be total crap. I hope.

Fingers crossed. Wish me luck!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hungry For The Hunger Games

I'm finally jumping on another bandwagon. This week I finished up Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, so I busted out Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and started listening in my car yesterday on the way to work. THG is a much-hyped young adult trilogy about a dystopian society in which teenagers fight to the death every year to get food for their fellow district members.

Wow. Remind me not to raise kids in a dystopian society.

I'm only about three chapters in so far, so I can't give you much on it yet, but so far I'm enjoying it. (There's a boy with a girl's name, the only thing that's pulled me out of the story so far.)

Why am I writing a post about a book I haven't really even read yet? Because the movie's coming out next month, and if you haven't seen the trailer yet, it's fantastic! One of my secret dream jobs is to make movie previews, and this particular trailer (the actual theatrical version, not the TV versions) makes me wish again that I lived in Hollywood and got to create these for a living. It's a couple minutes long, but it doesn't feel that long, and by the countdown at the end, you'll be dying to see what happens next.

Check out the trailer at THG.


Friday, February 3, 2012


This week I ran across a surprisingly moving film. Even though it's animated, silent, and about 15 minutes long (all of which are not typically the ingredients of quality literary films), "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" apparently moved the Academy as much as it moved me. Having already picked up some awards at the Austin Film Festival and Cinequest Film Fest, the flick is now up for "Best Animated Short" at this year's Oscars.

The film opens with Mr. Morris Lessmore sitting on his French Quarter-style balcony writing a book whose letters and pictures seem to have a life of their own. When a hurricane suddenly hits, the words and pictures fly off into the sky, and Mr. Morris and everything else around him soon follow. The rest of the film is a love letter to books and a fantasy for any bibliophile who's ever dreamed of the day when his books will talk back.

Gracie, this film is mandatory viewing for you!

Check out the film at Moonbot Studios.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon-Sized Hype

Anyone who really knows me knows that I don't generally go for anything with a lot of hype. One of my best friends in college loved to call me Miss Anti-Mainstream, and I don't think he meant it as a compliment.  I've been known to despise things on principle alone, and to feel like snubbing an excellent work of art simply because the rest of the world discovered it (yes, I know, a despicable trait). Twilight, (which is pretty much YA required reading these days) sat front-and-center in every bookstore I passed for years before I ever picked it up--and I've been a fan of vamp fiction since Anne Rice. I was that predisposed against that bright red apple.

(Okay, so I saw Titanic in the theaters 7 times the first go-round, but I assure you, that was a one-off. And I was 16. Sue me.)

I felt the same way about the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (see Larsson's website).  It, too, monopolized prominent bookstore displays for ages, and I would look at the covers with their screaming titles and bright colors, then turn up my snooty nose and think, That looks way too generic for me.

A few months ago I saw the trailer for David Fincher's film version of the first book, and being a David Fincher fan (see Welcome to Fictiffous), my interest was piqued.  I downloaded the audiobook, which is what I do when my interest is half-mast, and listened to it over a week or so on my 45-minute commute.

The book breaks a lot of fiction laws.  There are long, complicated passages of backstory, unbroken by anything actually happening in real time.  There are named characters who get five seconds of fame and then drop off the face of the planet.  There are long stretches of writing where almost nothing happens. And there's one particularly long section of who-begat-who's that would rival the Book of Genesis.

Despite all that, I was hooked from the first scene.  The opening is so strong that I didn't mind wading through the backstory, just to get an answer to the question raised in the first scene of the book.  These books are an example of the rare occasion in which you can roll so many supposedly crappy moves into a beautiful (in its dark and violent way) piece of art.

I'm about halfway through the last book now, and Larsson still has my rapt attention.

Yesterday, I took my husband to see the film.  We went to the matinee and there were about ten other people in the theater.  One man chomped popcorn throughout most of the film and laughed nervously at all the uncomfortable parts. A group of old ladies sitting two rows down alternated between bouts of silence and shocked fits of giggling. Before we even got to the first scene, when the opening credits were still rolling, I sat forward in my seat staring with wide eyes at the screen, and my husband leaned over and whispered, "This is creepy." (Don't worry--if you're familiar with the books you'll think the opening's amazing, not creepy.  My darling husband didn't know what he was in for.)

I think at this point it's needless to say that the film was great, but I'll say it anyway, just so we're clear. The film was great.  It stayed true to the essence of the book, but just cut out all the slow parts. And I'm not surprised at all that Rooney Mara got an Oscar nod for her performance.  She is so much the badass Lisbeth Salander that she ceases being herself, and fans will not even recognize her in the film. I barely did, and I already thought she was fantastic before the film. She made me believe she was Lisbeth. She made me wish I were Lisbeth's very best friend.

The film is not for the weak of heart.  It's a dark tale, and Fincher's a dark director, and the score's deliciously dark (created by the composers of the superb The Social Network score), so don't be fooled into thinking it's your typical mystery, because there's some disturbing stuff sprinkled all throughout. (Parents, don't take your kiddies to this one!)  And I might've been disturbed too, had I not known it was coming. But the characters are so real, so visceral--especially Lisbeth Salander--that in the near-empty theater, I could literally hear people rooting for them.  Even my creeped-out husband was eventually won over. Halfway through, he sat forward and said something like, "Way to go!"

Go see the film before it leaves theaters, if for no other reason than to experience the mind-boggling opening credits. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Rooney Mara on Oscar night.

Check out more about the film and see the trailer at IMDb.


Monday, January 23, 2012

An Ode to the Used Book

This weekend I took my husband's little girl Gracie to my favorite local used bookstore.  It's a place we both love, so whenever she's in town we try to make the trip out.  Now that Borders is closed and the closest traditional brick-and-mortar is over a half hour away, this store has become the only place outside of my own house where I can surround myself with books.

So what if they're shabby with cracked spines and yellowed pages?  I'm much more likely to find an impressive array of Sweet Valley and BSC ('80s babies know what I mean!) books in the young adult section there than at a "real" bookstore.  (Not that I'll buy them anymore.  But still, what's the harm in feeling young again?)

This visit came on the heels of a hiatus several months long, so there were some new books to peruse.  Every once in a while I came upon a book that used to belong to Gracie, and before her had belonged to me, and I would have a sudden irrational urge to buy the book back (even though I'd given it up in the first place), just to rescue it from its used book wasteland.  

And then I'd remember that it's not a wasteland at all.  A used bookstore isn't just full of used books; it's full of books that were previously owned, previously loved even, and have now been carefully traded in for someone else to discover and love, to devour their crinkled pages with a voraciousness that might rival the original owner's.  Sure, maybe the first owner traded up to bigger--or even better--books, but that's okay, because the used bookstore will set them free and offer the chance to find a new owner.  Maybe a lifetime owner this time.

So dig out and dust off those old Nancy Drew hardbacks, dog-eared but long-forgotten, and give them a shot at finding love again.  You might just make some kid's--maybe Gracie's--day.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Edit Me Out of Here

I'm starting to discover an awful truth about myself.

Exactly a month from today, I'm heading to Austin for my very first writer's conference.  An author of several books I've enjoyed will be there, not to mention some prominent literary agents, one (who shall remain nameless) who's on my Top 5 Dream Agents list.  I've been excited about this conference for months.

You see, last fall I wrote another novel.  I spit out the first draft in about 8 weeks, squeezing in late-night sessions nearly every night with my slow-as-mold netbook.  When I found out about the conference, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally put one of my novels out there.

So I started studying, because of course I can never tackle any project without reading every book ever written on the subject.  I read books on plotting, characterization, structure, revision, finding an agent, writing a query, and on and on and on...  I read seemingly endless books on self-editing, even read one entire tome on crafting the first few pages of a novel.

Eventually I ran out of books to read.  So I read blogs, agency websites, Twitter feeds, and anything else I could get my hands on.  I joined organizations and critique groups. I basically immersed myself in anything that could remotely relate to young adult fiction.  I even replaced my netbook with a shiny new MacBook, a computer I've dreamed about since college (it's an investment in my future, right?).

Now, sitting here staring at the bright, unblemished screen, with no book left unturned and no Tweet left unchecked, there's nothing else for me to do but edit.

The awful truth is that I can't.  I can write the most complicated soliloquy about someone else's work, digging out the minutest meanings in the most minor of details, but when it comes to my own work, I might as well be illiterate.  All of my careful research may've gone to naught, and I'm looking at 82,000 words that might be total crap.

Or they might be a goldmine just waiting to be discovered.  I really have no idea.

Good thing I invested time collecting so many critique partners.  They keep me grounded, and make sure I don't spend all my time blogging or watching TV or just plain sleeping, instead of revising.

Think I can edit a whole novel in a month?  Self-edit, no less?

Stay tuned!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nothing! Nothing tra la la!

Did you get that?  If not, you're not of the same cult classic mindset that I am.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch the Jim Henson film Labyrinth over and over, until I had nearly all the tunes and dialogue, complete with vocal inflection, entirely committed to memory. And then I grew up a little, moved on, and forgot all about the Goblin King. 

Until I was 12, that is, and decided to write part of a novel set in the labyrinth of the Goblin City (real original, I know). Watching it with slightly more mature eyes, the songs suddenly seemed silly, the puppety dancing laughable.  Still, there was something magical about it, something that I loved so deeply that now, decades later, it still holds one of the highest film ranks in my heart.

As a kid, I took the movie at face value.  Now, after vehemently studying editing and story structure and plotting and characterization and on and on...I wonder about the backstory of such an original film. Why was Jareth, the Goblin King (played by the delightful David Bowie and his infamous tights) in love with a girl less than half his age (played by the adorable Jennifer Connelly)?  Where is the Goblin City, and why is Jareth the only human there? And why are those pink bird things so absurdly creepy?

It seems that, after 25 years, my questions are about to get an answer.  Well, hopefully.  Rumors are spreading that a prequel is in the works and set for release late this year.  It won't be a film--which might be better, I mean who could ever play the child version of David Bowie?--but will instead be a graphic novel, aka a glorified comic book. Personally I like graphic novels, so the format's fine with me, and besides, getting the opportunity to step back into a world that I treasured as a child sounds like a good deal to me.

Despite its seeming silliness, Labyrinth taught me a lot of things about life (and fiction). That fairies can be mean. That impossible paintings can come to life. That goblins shouldn't dance, and men shouldn't wear tights.

And most importantly, that I should never take anything for granted.


See more details at TG Daily.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Resolve, or Not To Resolve? That is the Question

In early January every year, most of us ask ourselves the same question: To resolve, or not to resolve? But what's the point of making New Year's resolutions when most of us fail to keep them?  In fact, there may be more truth in fiction than there is in New Year's resolutions.

According to, the most popular New Year's resolutions are unsurprisingly generic.  Lose weight.  Eat healthy.  Lay off the booze.  Work out.  Recycle.  Stop smoking.  Save money.

You get the picture.

I'm not immune to this particular sort of fiction-writing.  Every year I, too, sit down on or around January the 1st and think about what I should do differently in the coming year.  Last year, it was to lose the baby weight and be a more patient mother.  Yet here I am, another year later, still carrying a bit of the baby blubber and probably less patient than I've ever been. 

Resolutions just never seem to work.  Should I just resolve not to resolve this year?  Something just feels...wrong...about that.  What's a New Year's without resolutions?  Even if we don't make them happen, it's important to start the year off hopeful, right?  Wouldn't it be worse if we started each year more downtrodden than the last?

Of course it would.  So then, maybe New Year's resolutions, fictitious or not, have their place in our society after all.  They certainly have their place in me.  This year, I will again resolve to finally lose that baby weight, to finally become a more patient mother, and maybe even to be nicer to the loving man I call my husband. And this year, I'll even throw in something easier to achieve.

This year, I'm looking for an agent.  Notice I used the word looking, not finding--I'm sure it'd be vastly easier to be nicer to my husband, and even to lose the last 5 pounds, than it would to actually get an agent to represent me.  But I can look.  And I can try.  And maybe I'll get rejected a lot this year.  No, I'll definitely get rejected a lot this year.  But I'll also learn a lot, that's for sure.  And isn't that really the point?  I'm in a place of hope, and I have a long journey ahead of me to a destination I may never reach, but if I can gain something just in the journey, then maybe I've already succeeded.

Who knows?  Maybe this year I'll actually keep a New Year's resolution, and use it to build an even better one next year.

What will you resolve to do this year?

Happy 2012, from Fictiffous!