Tag Archive: books

My new writing space

With the new addition to our family due at the end of May, some shifting around had to happen in our house to make room for a nursery. Luckily, our basement renovation had just been finished, so my husband moved his office downstairs, and I took over his old office location, which is right next door to the nursery. When baby sleeps, I will try to write! (Or something like that…)

I was excited to have a new office to decorate, but struggled a bit initially with the layout of the room. It’s longer and more rectangular than my old office, which was more of a square, and I didn’t want it to feel narrow. Thanks to my husband, who is a genius at furniture layout, I was able to make the most of the space, and I’m really happy with the end result! The walls are painted a blue-gray color that I love (it’s actually the same shade we chose for the nursery), and I have a better desk and new computer monitor, along with my beloved desk chair and bookshelf.

 

One mission I had before moving into my new office was purge some things I wasn’t using anymore. Decluttering is one of the greatest feelings– there’s something incredibly satisfying about admitting you’re not using/wearing/reading something and donating it to a local charity instead. So that’s exactly what I did. It took a lot longer than I thought it would (this is a common theme with projects I take on…), but I was determined to have a fresh start in my new space without any clutter bogging me down. Some was thrown out, a lot was donated, and I repurposed some things I completely forgot I even had. I organized all my swag items and mailing materials, and found a spot for my massive collection of notebooks. There’s a saying about how a cluttered workspace = a cluttered mind, and I think there’s some truth to that, at least for me. As a person who errs on the scatterbrained side (especially with baby brain, which I swear, is a real thing), I can use all the zen vibes a space can give me!

 

My plan for the wall over my desk is to have all my future book covers turned into plaques and hung up. Firsts is, obviously, the first one, and when I’m slogging through a draft that I feel is going nowhere, I can look up at it and remember that I do know how to write books after all.

Now that my office is finished, I’m excited to get back to my writing routine and spend some quality time there before baby arrives!

January, briefly

Fur baby, book baby, and human baby!

The year has started off on a good note! Aside from gray skies for most of the month, things have been decidedly cheerful. I’m back into a routine with writing and revising (I had been admittedly derailed by December festivities), and recently shared some amazing news… my husband and I are expecting our first child at the end of May! We’re very excited about the new addition to our family (and my beloved dog, Abby, is hopefully just as excited to be a big sister)! Aside from needing a bit more sleep than usual, I have felt fantastic through my whole pregnancy. Hopefully that continues!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I’m revising a YA thriller (my most recent NaNo project) and have used a couple new strategies to maximize revision efficiency. As a pantser, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed at the thought of tackling my messy first draft and trying to fix what isn’t working. This time, I read the entire manuscript before making any changes, which made a huge difference. I was able to pick out inconsistencies, plot potholes and craters, and threads that are mysteriously dropped or picked up. I also printed the manuscript off so that I have something physical to review and mark up, instead of trying to scroll back and forth on my tablet screen. These changes have gone a long way toward making me a more efficient reviser, so now maybe the urge to draft won’t be so tempting all the time!

Reading: The first book I finished in 2017 was Room by Emma Donoghue, a renowned author from the same city as me. Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who has spent his entire life in captivity with his mother, it’s a harrowing, heartbreaking, and brilliant perspective into what happens when living in one room turns into living in the world overnight. After reading it, I watched the movie, which was so well-acted!

I was lucky enough to read a copy of A.V. Geiger’s debut novel, Follow Me Back, ahead of its May release date. It’s a YA thriller and it’s so twisty and suspenseful! I’m pretty open about my love of a plot that will keep me guessing, and this one was not just surprising, but completely shocking. (That ending!)

Next was Flower by Shea Olsen and Elizabeth Craft. I got to know Shea last year, and had been anticipating her debut YA contemporary romance novel for so long. It definitely didn’t disappoint! I finished it in one weekend and stayed up past my bedtime, and for a sleepy pregnant lady, that’s saying a lot.

I finished off the month with a book that left me completely floored- Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. This one had so many twists and turns I did not see coming. It’s dark, sharp, and haunting and at times hard to read, but it left me thinking for a long time afterward, which is a sure sign of a very compelling read.

Watching: I used to be in denial about it, but I can now say without shame that I’m totally hooked on cheesy reality shows, especially The Bachelor. They’re my guilty pleasure when I just need to turn my brain off and not think. I was excited to tune into this season, and it already looks like it’s full of drama, so I’m sure I won’t miss an episode!

December, briefly

Tree decorating fun!

Ah, December… the last month of the year, and possibly my favorite month of this year? (Which is saying a lot, because I have been pretty vocal about how much I hate any kind of snow that isn’t Jon Snow.) But this December has really been amazing for a few special reasons. Not to mention, Christmas is a magical time on its own. I love the traditions– picking out a tree and decorating it, reciting National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation word for word, making pancakes and bacon on Christmas morning– and as much as I don’t love my annual procrastination when it comes to buying gifts, I was able to relax and really enjoy the holidays this year.

This month, I have been…

Working on: For the first time in several months… not very much! After finishing the first draft of a new YA thriller last month for NaNo, I took a few weeks off to mentally recharge. It worked, because I’m itching to get back to new words!

Reading: I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it really was everything. Heartfelt, hilarious, and so insightful, with characters who felt real. I’m not surprised that this book has not only been optioned for film, but will be an actual movie next year! So excited to see Maddie and Olly on the big screen. I also read Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, a story about the twists and turns of female friendship (a theme I am forever excited about reading in YA). And I was lucky enough to read Riley Redgate’s sophomore novel, Noteworthy, in ARC form before its 2017 release date, and I completely fell in love with it! It’s both funny and serious, a study in gender and what that means, and explores sexuality and sexual orientation with so much nuance and sensitivity.

Watching: Aside from the traditional Christmas movies (National Lampoon! Scrooged! A Christmas Story! It’s a Wonderful Life!), my husband and I binge-watched the first season of Stranger Things and were completely captivated. Not the most Christmas-y show, but… we couldn’t stop watching! I’m a huge Winona Ryder fan, so I was very excited to see her on TV, and I really liked the entire concept… the dark, twisty nature, plus the Stephen King-esque vibe. Can’t wait for the next season!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and enjoy the last days of December before we ring in 2017!

November, briefly

Being a writing buddy is exhausting!

Usually, November ushers in snow and cold weather and I start to get a case of the winter blahs. We have been especially lucky this month to have mild temperatures (for the most part), and I’m in much better spirits than I normally am at this time of the year. This November has been very productive and fun, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’m back in a solid writing groove.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished a (very sloppy) first draft of a YA contemporary thriller I have been conjuring up in my head for several months. I used this first draft to get to the heart of the story and show myself what it’s really about. As usual, my characters had different plans than I did, but for me as an author, those revelations are half the fun. Now that I have words on pages and know my characters better, I can work at refining the mess and getting the story to look on paper how it does in my head. Which is always the hardest part…

Reading: I finished two excellent Sweet Sixteen debuts: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, and The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander. The former is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, and I loved its creativity and how totally real the characters felt. The latter, about a girl haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother who begins to challenge her fears through freediving, is beautiful and haunting and evocative. I also read Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, whose writing is in a league of its own. Her autobiographies are many things, but inspiring tops the list. I ended the month with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a book I had been eager to read, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the humor and heart, and how relationships were portrayed– family bonds, friendship, and romantic love.

Watching: After hearing so many great things about Westworld, I knew I had to start the season and give it a try. (My husband was surprised I suggested it since I’m not usually a huge fan of sci-fi.) We were both sucked in right away by the totally imaginative concept, plot twists galore, and fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. I’m glad I ventured outside of my TV comfort zone!

I love Christmas, so I’m looking forward to all that December brings… picking out a tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts, spending time with friends and family, and eating all the holiday food! Wishing you all the best in the last month of 2016!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girls In The Moon

I was extremely lucky to read an advance copy of a seriously amazing late 2016 debut that releases next week. Girls In The Moon by Janet McNally gave me a serious book hangover, because its pages are rich and sumptuous and soaked in gorgeous language and depth.

Girls In The Moon is the story of Phoebe, the daughter of rock stars who were famous in the 90s with their band, Shelter. Phoebe lives with her mother, Meg, and hasn’t seen her father in over three years. In the heart of summer, she visits her older sister Luna in New York City, where Luna has recently dropped out of school to pursue her own musical career—a choice Meg isn’t too happy about. Phoebe wants to get the kind of answers from her family that nobody can provide, as Meg avoids talking about Shelter and Luna has seemingly convinced herself that she doesn’t need her father in her life. Phoebe’s story in the present is interlaced with flashbacks from Meg’s point of view in the early days when Shelter was being formed, and I loved the contrast—that as Phoebe surges forward in her quest for truth, Meg’s journey is going backwards, from marital breakup to the first seedlings of fame.

I cannot adequately describe how incredible the writing is in this book. Janet McNally is a poet as well as a writer, and this comes as no surprise—her use of words is thoughtful, visceral, lush, and utterly original. Her descriptions of things through Phoebe’s eyes are so unique and compelling that I wanted to highlight pretty much every line. Her sentences are infused with grace, hope, curiosity, sometimes sadness, always so much insight.

This is a book that deals with a lot of things. It’s about relationships—sisters, mother-daughter, father-daughter, friends, romantic love. It’s about regret and mistakes and choices. It’s about faith and taking chances and finding not only yourself, but different versions of yourself that you may not have yet stepped into. It’s the brassy collision of music and reality and fame and responsibility. And it’s completely captivating.

I’m so excited for everyone to discover Girls In The Moon. This is a book I’ll come back to when I need to feel inspired, because it has this magnetic energy. If there’s a formula to make words jump off a page, Janet McNally has fully mastered it.

Add Girls In The Moon to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Learn more about Janet McNally and her writing.

October, briefly

It’s hard to believe that the end of October is here! Fall has definitely come to Ontario, and the warm days have been replaced by cool weather and plenty of beautiful changing leaves. I have officially swapped my shorts for jeans and my flip flops for boots, candy has been consumed, and my dog may have tried on a few different Halloween costumes. As much as I tend to despise what’s coming (ahem… winter), I’m trying to focus on all the things I have to look forward to in hopes that the cold weather will be more bearable!

Perfect October viewing!

Perfect October viewing!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It’s almost Halloween, so what better project to undertake than a thriller? I have apparently had darkness on the brain lately. I’m currently playing around with a couple different ideas, so we’ll see which one sticks! I’m planning to fully commit to something in November, but I have a feeling some outlining will be required, because the twisty nature of thrillers doesn’t always mesh so well with my pantsing style.

Reading: I was lucky enough to start the month with Fear the Drowning Deep by fellow Sweet Sixteener Sarah Glenn Marsh. I have known Sarah since our days in the query trenches, so getting to read her gorgeous debut was a really amazing feeling! Sarah’s writing is absolutely luminous, and this story– about monsters lurking in the deep off the Isle of Man and the girl determined to stop them from harming her village– is unique and unforgettable.

I’m currently reading City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, which is incredibly captivating– it’s told from multiple perspectives and culminates around a blackout that happens in New York City in the summer of 1977. The writing is masterful and the characters feel so realistic. It’s the kind of book I want to take my time with, and it has been the perfect companion for chilly fall evenings.

Watching: My sister and I have an annual tradition of watching all of the Halloween episodes of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (we watched the show religiously when it was on TV), along with the classics– Hocus Pocus and Teen Wolf. It’s not Halloween otherwise!

I have some exciting plans coming up for November, so I have a feeling it will be a great month– and if the snow can hold off, that would be even better. (I’m of the mindset that the only good kind of snow is Jon Snow…)

Spotlight on Sixteens: Fear The Drowning Deep

I have known the talented Sarah Glenn Marsh since our days of being querying authors. We shared tales of the query trenches and dreams of becoming published authors, so it’s pretty awesome that we both have 2016 debuts! Sarah’s debut, Fear The Drowning Deep, is out tomorrow, so if you like stories filled with magic, love, and sea monsters (who doesn’t?), head to the bookstore as soon as you can!

What an incredibly unique, sumptuous, and vivid debut novel. Set in the Isle of Mann in 1913, Fear The Drowning Deep is the story of a girl named Bridey who is terrified of the ocean– for good reason. When she was a child, she watched the sea claim her granddad, and she has steered clear of it ever since. But when a dead girl washes up on shore, followed by a badly wounded but beautiful boy with no memory, Bridey realizes she can’t avoid what is lurking in the ocean depths–especially when more girls go missing. With the help of Morag, the town outcast (who many fear is a witch), Bridey devotes herself to learning about the monsters feeding on the town girls and protecting her family at all costs. She’s also falling in love- although Fynn, the boy she found on the beach, has his own secrets.

Sarah Glenn Marsh is a beautiful writer. Her use of language is poetic but fierce, lovely but cutting. Reading her prose transported to a part of the world I have never visited and a time I never lived, but the power of the words made me feel like I was immersed right in the thick of the action. That’s writing magic.

Fear The Drowning Deep is a lot of things. It’s a love story and a mystery, weaving folklore and feelings and family ties. It’s about monsters, and how fear itself is sometimes the most intimidating monster of all.

Add Fear The Drowning Deep to your reading list!

Preorder your own copy!

Find out more about Sarah Glenn Marsh and her writing here.

September, briefly

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

September has always been one of my favorite months. I love the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and the electric sensation that anything can happen. Summer clung on a little longer this year (which I wasn’t complaining about… I would wear flip flops year round if I could), but now I feel like we’re firmly into fall. The month was capped off by a fantastic trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street festival, where I spoke on a panel and got to hang out with some awesome writer friends!

This month, I have been…

Working on: The first half of the month was challenging… I felt creatively blocked and my attention was scattered, leaving me a lot less productive than usual. But instead of forcing myself to work on something I wasn’t passionate about, I wrote some short stories, which motivated me to take chances and explore. I finally hit a groove with the new YA contemporary thriller that has been percolating in my mind for awhile now. I managed to get a decent amount of words down in the last couple weeks and am looking forward to more fast-drafting in October!

Reading: September has been a huge reading month for me! I started with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which my CP has been telling me to read for ages. I finally got a copy for my Kobo and understood exactly why it’s her favorite book. It’s deep and intense and so different from any YA book I have read. Next, I was lucky enough to read my agent-sis Samantha Joyce’s sophomore novel, Dealing in Deception, before its November release date! I literally could not put this one down… it has everything a reader could possibly want! Plot twists, humor, realistic relationships, drama, and healthy doses of romance. Next, I read the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline, which deserves every bit of amazing praise it has received. The writing totally blew my mind and seriously inspired me. I followed up The Girls with another eagerly awaited 2016 debut, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I loved this one too… such a true-to-live glimpse of working in the restaurant industry with incredibly sensory writing that made me hungry for gourmet food more than once. I then read Not That Kind of Girl, the memoir by Lena Dunham, which I really enjoyed since I’m a huge fan of her TV show Girls. I finished the month with two excellent YA contemporaries, Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway and The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

(I guess it’s pretty obvious how I spend my time when I have writer’s block!)

Watching: I was totally sucked in by Empire, a show I have been meaning to start for awhile now. I’m a big fan of Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (they have such great chemistry on screen together!), and I sped through the first season. I love the family dynamics and watching the lies, drama, and betrayal play out. Plus, the music is amazing!

I have a feeling October will be a really fantastic month. I’m looking forward to walks in the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, and lots of writing!

For all the Pitch Wars hopefuls

On Wednesday night, the Pitch Wars mentee list was unveiled. Excitement ensued for those chosen and there was a fun virtual Twitter dance party as everyone congratulated each other on this huge accomplishment. I remembered being on the other side of things, as a mentee two and a half years ago, madly stalking the hashtag for any and every update. I remembered my heart racing and the doubt coursing through my mind that I wasn’t going to get picked, and I’d have to move on from that. When I did get picked, I stared at the screen in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake.

Keep taking that leap of faith... you'll only get higher!

Keep taking that leap of faith… you’ll only get higher!

Why the crippling doubt? Because I had entered contests before with other manuscripts. My hopes had been high. They had promptly been crushed. I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment, gird myself against failure. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being hopeful and started being what I called practical, steeling myself for the sting of rejection.

If I’m being perfectly honest, every time I wasn’t picked for a contest, I went into a mini-spiral of negativity. I convinced myself my writing wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t on the same level as others who had entered, that I’d never find an agent, that I should only write for fun and not put myself through the stress of trying to get published.

Sometimes I took a break. Sometimes I threw myself into a new project. But always, I went back to writing, and always, after the storm cloud had passed, I looked toward the next contest. The next query. The next thing.

What I didn’t realize then is that publishing never stops being about rejection. Even as a published author, I deal with it. And if I had let every “no” derail me, I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with no direction. But I learned to take those “nos” for what they were. Subjective opinions. Sometimes, a “no” is accompanied by great feedback that you can apply and learn from. Sometimes it’s about someone not connecting with your writing or your plot or your characters. And you know what? Every “no” is okay. Because every “no” takes you closer to the “yes” that you will get if you keep writing.

This is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. I was totally blown away by the level of talent and the caliber of work in my inbox. I also heard the mentor chatter behind the scenes, and it was unanimous that this year’s quality level was higher than ever. Not getting picked is NOT a no. Not even close. You have a whole community of people behind you, and that’s the beauty of Pitch Wars. Once you submit, you’re in the Pitch Wars family, and we all want you to succeed. We’re here for questions you have, advice you want, virtual hugs you need. We’re here for you.

It’s okay to be disappointed, to process whatever you’re feeling. But just remember that if you’re sending your work out there, if you’re doing your research and learning something about the publishing industry, you’re doing things right. You’re where you need to be. And I have no doubt with that attitude, you’ll get where you want to be.

Be hopeful. Be practical. Be you, because only you can write your stories, and the world wants them!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Unscripted Joss Byrd

Today’s Spotlight on Sixteens is all about Unscripted Joss Byrd, a book I adored that’s written by an author I adore just as much! Lygia Day Peñaflor’s debut is honest and authentic, and it hits shelves August 23rd!

I have a fascination with actors. The roles they play, their processes, their lives on and off screen. So when I first heard about Unscripted Joss Byrd, I was incredibly excited to start reading. A glimpse into the life of a young actress trying to leave her mark on Hollywood? Yes, please.

In Unscripted Joss Byrd, the titular character, Joss, is a twelve-year-old actress who has been praised for her movie roles thus far. But on the set of her most recent movie, The Locals, she struggles with script changes, jealousy, a director who is less than honest, difficult scenes, and her difficult mother. From the outside, Joss has it all. She has a promising career and she’s still cute enough to get “kid” roles. But being in Joss’s head is a different story. She grapples with playing a character based on a real person who doesn’t want her story being told, and feelings of inadequacy– that she’s not smart enough, not pretty enough, not enough. She desperately wants to do the right thing. But is what’s right for her right for everyone else– her mother, her director, her costars?

Joss’s voice is absolutely, stunningly real. She’s young and inexperienced, but also older than her years. She wants a movie career, but is terrified on a daily basis that she’s going to forget her lines. She’s afraid her career will end when she hits puberty. At times, she’s a mess of contradictions. She’s hopeful and confident and scared and insecure. My heart went out to her. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that’s the point– there’s no guarantee everything will be okay, especially in the movie industry, when longevity only befalls the lucky ones. There’s luck and there’s hard work, and Joss is no stranger to either.

Unscripted Joss Byrd is deep. It’s an honest, unflinching look at the underbelly of Hollywood life from the eyes of a girl trying to make what she has last as long as she can, while simultaneously living in fear of what comes next. I love how Lygia Day Penaflor is unafraid of showing the gritty reality under the sparkling surface. This is a book that will make me think twice the next time I open a magazine and see the beautiful celebrities within. Because all that glitters really isn’t gold.

Add Unscripted Joss Byrd to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder a copy!

Visit Lygia Day Peñaflor’s website to learn more about her.

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