Giveaway Times Two!

September 30, 2012 at 11:59 am (Giveaway) (, , , , , , , , )

So I’m a horrible person, who feels very bad about not posting meaningful content recently because life just keeps kicking me in the pants.

Today I’d like to make that up to you, not with meaningful content unfortunately, because life is still happening in a kind of bad way at the moment, but with two giveaways.

Normally I don’t like to giveaway ARCs of books that have already been released. The first few weeks of sales are so critical for an author’s success with a given book that I don’t like to detract from that in any way. However, quite simply, the money isn’t always there. If it were, I think we’d all rush out and buy ALL THE BOOKS as soon as they came out but all too often we have to make choices. If it’s between books and food, I choose books every time, but sometimes that second option is…oh, RENT.

Recently I received two ARCs of books I’d already purchased, books that I wanted the finished hardcopies of no matter what, so I am offering them up to you. First one is Origin, by Jessica Khoury, and the second is Hidden, the third book in the Firelight series by Sophie Jordan.

All you have to do to enter is comment below and tell me which one you want and why. That’s it. (Well, and make sure your email address is tucked away there somewhere, that will be important). If you want both books, you can tell me that and why, and you can be entered for both, but you cannot WIN both- winning one will remove you from the draw for the other.

I’ll draw the winners next Sunday (7 October) and contact them, so you have a full week to enter! Feel free to spread the word (please?) but it doesn’t actually get you any extra entries.

Best of luck!

Until next time~

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Be Smart. Be Safe.

September 16, 2012 at 10:05 am (General) (, , )

I’ve been a little delinquent here lately, but there’s a simple reason for that: I’m still unpacking. Real life intruded in the form of work, so progress has been in miniscule increments, and by my own rules, I’m not allowed to read any new books until I’m completely finished. Which is kind of killing me, to be honest, because my stack of bribe books is amazing and I desperately want to read them NOW and I can’t. So, until I get my house out of boxes and in order, posts are going to be somewhat sporadic.

This is important, though.

As some of you have probably heard, an agent was attacked this week outside of her home by a disgruntled querier.


Outside of her home.

By a disgruntled querier.

As she was posting the tweets with updates on the police side of things, my brain simply refused to believe it. I could not wrap myself around the idea that anyone could get that worked up over a form letter rejection. A FORM LETTER- nothing personal or hateful, just routine.

This was in NO WAY the agent’s fault, but I think it made a lot of realize how easy it is for our personal information to get out there for others to use.

-If you use twitter location or 4square (or similiar location announcing media), consider turning it off. Or, waiting to ‘check in’ until you’re leaving. Announcing your location through social media makes it easy for people to track you down, especially if you have a set routine*

*more on routine later

-for authors, but also especially for bloggers: if you do a lot of giveaways, consider renting a post office box. It doesn’t have to be a big one, and you never need to worry about actually receiving mail there, but you can list the post office as the return address, so you don’t have to put your home address down. A very resourceful, determined creep could narrow down to city and general area, but they won’t be able to narrow it down to, oh let’s say, your house. The little ones are pretty cheap, and even though the chances of being attacked are slim, the fact is, it does happen.

-be careful who you give your address to. Think about how many times you give out your address in a given week, either to giveaways or online purchases or even just writing it down on the return lines for bills. We get really excited that we’ve won a giveaway, but pay attention to the site on which you’ve entered- if something is giving you a bad feeling, you might not want to give out your personal information. Kind of like giving the creepy guy at the club the number of an intimidating-sounding male friend if he won’t take no for an answer on getting your digits, you might want to have a backup location (which goes back to the post office box). If you don’t want to give the creepy guy your phone number, don’t give his online parallel your address. You can do a lot worse with the address than with the phone number.

-vary your routines. A lot of have routines that we settle into. They make life easier, they make it less likely that we’ll forget to do things (or forego doing them in favor of something more interesting), and when we’re braindead and on autopilot, they make it possible to function. But routines, by the very nature of their predictability, make it easy for Creepers to guess where we are or where we’re going to be. If you get coffee at the same Starbucks every morning at 7:15, it isn’t just the baristas who’ll know to expect you. Change it up a little. Leave a little earlier. Hit up a different Starbucks. Even little things can help protect you. We’ve all seen the Criminal Minds episodes where the serial killer stalks his victims and learns their routines so he can abudct or kill with the least amount of external attention.

-if you’re outside your house and you notice someone sketchy hanging around, pay attention. They may be harmless, but they may not be. Notice what they look like, what they’re wearing, and if you get a creepy vibe, keep driving.

-when in doubt, call the police. Seriously, as irritated as it might make them to drive out and talk to a kid who mistook his girlfriend’s house number, they would rather do that a thousand times than have you suffer through an assault or worse. Don’t panic, but if there’s something wrong, don’t hesitate. Police are here to keep us safe. Just because you might feel silly afterwards is no reason to discount the very real fear you feel when someone is acting in a threatening manner around you or your home.

-if your car keys include a clicker, don’t lock or unlock your car from a distance. Do it right next to the car so no one has a chance to get in from the other side where you can’t see them.

-if you’re leaving work or school, someplace you’re expected to be for long periods of time, try to walk out with someone else. As you’re walking, keep your keys in hand and pay attention. Don’t dig in your purse, pockets, or backpack, don’t text as you’re walking. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. This not only helps you keep from being run over, it also helps you notice anything not as it should be. If your work or school is someplace sketchy, it wouldn’t hurt to keep your car key between two fingers, kind of like the brass knuckle from hell.

-on that note, consider the keyring bottles of mace or pepper spray. You can get them pretty easily, and yes, they make your keyring a little clunky, but it’s an extra sense of security for you, and it’s another chance to get away if you ever are cornered or threatened.

You should never have to feel unsafe in your daily life.

Be smart.

Be safe.

Until next time~

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Book Review: School Story, by Andrew Clements

September 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Natalie is a writer, one with a wonderful book pouring out onto the page, one her friend and teacher are sure should be published. Natalie is twelve years old. With hard work, determination, and more than a few pushes from her bossy friend, Natalie just might be able to pull off the improbable, but what she learns along the way? Is worth so much more than a book deal.

This is one of those stories that seems light and sweet while you’re reading it, and then clobbers you with deeper layers a few hours later. I picked it up a few years ago because one of my coworkers, herself a former Children’s Lead, told me I absolutely had to be able to talk intelligently about Andrew Clements. He’s a staple, she told me. Teachers love him, parents love him, kids love him. Learn him. So, given my interest in writing and publishing, picking up School Story seemed like a no-brainer. I read it, loved it, promptly lost it in a sea of books.

But the other day, as I was pulling books out of the boxes and sorting them to make alphabetizing and shelving an easier task, I came upon it again. It’s a thin book, the kind that bridges perfectly between chapter books and middle grade so the reluctant readers aren’t as scared and the stronger readers can trust an author they love to deliver, so when it was time to take a break, I took the book with me.

And fell in love with it all over again.

On the surface, I love the basic walkthrough of publishing. For any kid who has ever dreamed of being a published writer, it’s a gentle wake up call. At no point does it say “You can’t do this”. At every step, it says “This is work, but it’s wonderful”, encouraging and inspiring. Though from a purely selfish point I would have wished to see self-revision before submission, we get to go with Natalie from first reader to second reader, to submission reader, to acquisition, and beyond that to some of the numbers of a deal, the levels of a publishing house, and all the steps that go into making a manuscript into a book. We learn, as Natalie and Zoe do, that it truly is a process- you can tell the kids who’ve read this book because they’re the ones who aren’t surprised that their favorite series only come out with one book a year. They know all the things that are happening behind the scenes to fill that year.

Natalie is a wonderful character, a little timid, a little down on herself, but full of a cautious optimism at seeing her book come out into the world. Even as a twelve-year-old, the neurosis is there a little, and frankly, that won me over in a heartbeat. Most writers are neurotic people, especially when it comes to our writing, and re-reading some of the scenes in this book made me think of Rapunzel leaving the tower in Tangled. we want to send our books out into the world, but at the same time, we really don’t want to leave our safe little bubble of ignorance. Her relationship with her mother, her lingering struggle with her father’s death, they’re very real, and they invest both the story and her character with a more personal thread. Her best friend Zoe is a perfect match for her, brash and brazen and uber-confident, sure of getting her own way in everything, and not at all hesitant to go for what she wants. She and Natalie have a push-pull relationship, with Zoe tugging on Natalie to trust in her manuscript and Natalie pulling Zoe’s more out-there ideas to a more practical place.

One of the things I loved most- and not something you see all that often in kids’ books- was how important and supportive the adult figures are. Ms. Clayton, their teacher and eventual club sponsor, is young and starting to wear down a little under the grind of daily teaching, but despite feeling a little bewildered and over her head, she at no point tells the girls not to pursue their goal. She helps them with the more practical aspects, often mediating between the disparate personalities, and perhaps most importantly, she’s an adult they can trust and depend upon. She protects them and helps them, even at the risk of losing her job. Zoe’s father becomes someone else they can trust, and they also learn the nature of confidentiality. Some will keep your secrets purely because you wish them to; some will keep your secrets because they’re legally obligated to do so. Not that Mr. Reisman wouldn’t help his daughter and her friend of his own volition, but it’s another practical lesson in the process of publishing. And yet, his true importance to the story is less in what he does for the girls, but in the validation he gives to Ms. Clayton as a teacher and a role model- she is precisely the kind of teacher who changes lives for the better, the kind of teacher everyone wishes for their children. Parental acknowledgment of superior teaching helps so much in buoying up teachers who are constantly worn down by non-existent budgets, children who frequently don’t wish to learn, and the legion of parents who just don’t care. The interaction between these two adults is limited to a single phone call, but those few minutes are enough to reaffirm the faith and spirits of a young teacher.

I especially loved the relationship between Natalie and her mother, Hannah, who’s an editor. There’s a balance of curiosity in her work and the simple joys of being with her mother for movies and Chinese, but they don’t so much dance around the place where Natalie’s father used to be as they do embrace it. It’s hard and it’s painful, and sometimes the memories are heavier than others, but their connection is solid, which makes Natalie’s professional progress a beautiful mirror to her personal progress. And Hannah has her own progress to make within the workplace; Natalie came by her partial-timidity naturally. The adults in this novel (well, most of the adults in this novel; Letha is less than rounded) have their own journeys to make alongside the girls, becoming as real and as significant as either of the girls. That’s rare in this field.

I don’t care what age you are, this is a book to be read, treasured, and passed down and around.

Until next time~

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Alone But Not Lonely

September 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm (Writing) (, , , )

All moved into the new place, I’ve spent most of today trying to set up the library in my office. It’s not much yet. Most of the books are still in boxes, waiting to go to their homes on the empty shelves, while others are stacked in piles on the floor in groups of letters so I can alphabetize them. There are a couple separated from their fellows- a copy of Hamlet sitting by my chair, an architecture/religion book by the bed- but most of them are in view of the empty cases with the shelves stacked against their sides. All of the office supplies are in a similar state of transition, packed away with only a few pieces free to be used. The walls are bare, the cork and white boards leaning against the wall, and the desk is littered with the odds and ends that come of trying to unpack. A screwdriver, a hammer, a pair of scissors, packing tape, small things that never properly fit into boxes.

It isn’t an office yet, but it’s on its way.

It has potential.

Most importantly, it has a door that closes, and only one chair.

Writers are a strange breed, largely because what we do is simultaneously isolated and crowded. We sit for hours in a room, on a bench, at a table in Panera, staring at notebooks or computers, often with headphones in to filter away the outside world. We’re in our heads far more than we are in the space around us. We go for hours at a time without talking to other living human beings. We hole ourselves away, to plan, to draft, to revise, and our family and friends roll their eyes and let us be because they know our habits. We have bursts of connection- collaboration with partners or sounding boards, critique partners, conversations with agents and editors and bloggers- but most of the time, it’s a writer and a Thing.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that writing has a reputation as being a very lonely sort of profession.

It isn’t, though. Even when we emerge from the office craving simple human contact with ANYONE, even the rowdy pot-smokers on the stairway, it’s not because we’ve been alone or lonely. It’s because we’ve spent hours surrounded by people we can’t reach out and touch.

Far more than I think we ever successfully translate onto the page, our characters are real people in our heads. One of the joys of having my own apartment means I don’t need to worry about weirding out a roommate when I have conversations with my characters.

No, seriously, conversations. I talk with them, testing out their voices, listening to the patterns of their speech. My background is in music and theatre, so the sound of a thing is very important to me. When we read, even if we’re not consciously dissecting the language, we notice when sentences are ungainly or dialogue seems awkward. I like to read my stuff out loud- not just the dialogue, but the narration as well- to hear how it reads, to make sure it’s smooth. One of the things I look for is speech patterns.

Speech patterns change from person to person, taking into account personality, vocal habits, regionality, education, hell, even what they like to read or watch on TV. (For instance, you can always tell when I’ve been watching BBC.) What we say, and how we say it (where we put pauses or emphasis, even the order in which we string the words together) is distinctive, so one of the best ways I learn my new characters is to simply talk to them. I play with the sounds, and in so doing, I usually learn a great deal.

The more real the characters become, the more they’re able to stand on their own feet as people, the less lonely we as writers become even sitting alone in our workspaces. They talk to us, they share their backgrounds and their personalities, they tell us where they’re going and how they’re getting there, and eventually they reach a point where they just don’t shut up. We come to know these people better than we know most of our friends (that’s not a bad thing- everyone deserves their privacy, and characters rarely have any from the writer once they breach the levee). We’re the only person sitting in the room- we’re surrounded by people no one else can see.

We may be socially isolated while we’re writing, but we’re far from lonely.

Until next time~

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