Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scrivener

Okay, so I know I've got some writers out there. And writers need tools just like every other trade, right? Well, my favorite writing tool is Scrivener.

If you've never heard of Scrivener, it's a content-generation tool that allows writers full control of long documents. Right now the whole version is only available on Mac, but there is a beta out there for Windows. But really, Scrivener is an amazing tool.

How frightening is it staring at a 200+ page document on Windows? I know that I have trouble finding specific things in long documents like that one scene. And then you wonder if A became before B or if it was the other way around. Plus, editing can be a nightmare when you're trying to restructure your plot.

These things are made easier by the creators of Scrivener who decided to break everything down. You can break things down by chapter, by scene, by part – by whatever you want. You can list things, and move things around all you want just by clicking and dragging. You can write little summaries for you chapters or scenes that will help you find things later, or remember what happened when and in what order (for those of you who are really forgetful like me). You can give sections of text labels for whatever you desire (I like to use this for POV). You can give them keywords to remember who appears in a scene or what the setting is. The possibilities are absolutely endless!

There are also other perks. For instance, you can work on things in little pieces, like scenes, or choose to look at the whole draft as a whole. You can create a workable outline and then rearrange it while simultaneously rearranging your text. You can choose to write in the full screen mode which blacks out everything else.

You can also store all of your research in one place, having it easily accessible for whenever you need it. Lists of characters, settings, descriptions, whatever. You can put pictures if you want and whole web pages if you need. Yes, that's right. I said whole web pages. No more excuses that you can't write because there isn't any web access. You can have everything you need to write at your fingertips.

And that isn't all! (You didn't think it was, did you?) My favorite newest feature (or at least new to me) is the name generator. I'm not kidding. Stuck and need a quick name of an extra who only appears once? Set the name generator to create between 5 and 50 names and scroll through until you find one that you think fits. How cool is that?

And the best part is, it isn't even that expensive. In fact, in the world of programs, it's rather cheap. If I can afford it as a broke college student, you can too.

For those of you who wonder what mine looks like, I'll show you with a screenshot of mine. I put it on a new chapter so you can't see what I'm working on, but It's lots of fun guys. (Click to make the picture bigger.)


If you haven't tried it out yet, you should. Because it is that awesome. I don't think I'll ever use another writing program in my life to work on anything. Because you know what? It even formats scripts for you. Oh, the love. 

Have any of you tried this program? What do you think? What's your favorite feature? Or do you have plans to try it in the future? Love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Role Models

So, I think role models are very important. And I think the right role models are even more important. While I'm all right with young people looking up to actors, athletes, bands and other such people, I think that young people looking up to writers is a fantastic thing. I was one of them when I was little, even before I decided I wanted to become a writer.

So, here are four reasons why I think authors are one of the best options for role models:
  1. They use their brains. (As opposed to eating brains?)  No really. I know it takes a lot of skill to become an athlete, actor, band or other, writers do not rely on their looks, their brute strength or the voice they were given to make their careers. They use their brain, which I'll admit does take some god-given skill, takes a lot more determination and understanding than some other professions. Writers value wit and the ability to communicate ideas more than anything else. Except, maybe vocabulary. Which actually brings me to number 2...
  2. You can learn things from writers. Not saying to can't learn things from, say, a movie with your favorite actor in it. But text is better able to communicate ideas, lessons and opinions in ways that other forms of communication can't. People spend more time reading a novel than they do watching a movie, which allows more time to really sink into a story. And, I would argue, it's that deep immersion that allows people to open their minds to ideas and concepts they might never have thought of before. And it sure doesn't hurt with spelling and vocabulary.
  3. Writers generally choose controversy. Not going to lie, generally the controversy surrounding pop icons is about them doing something stupid. Yes, we like to read about celebrity scandal, I'll admit it. But while I keep one eye on it, I know that those people aren't the kind I want to look up to. Writers generally choose to enter conversations on controversial topics. And, they think before they speak (this is not always the case, but most times I'd say it's true). Writers have been pushing the limits since the beginning, enlightening others with radical views and racy subjects. But they do it in a smart way.
  4. Writers reach out to their fans. I know I'll never meet a movie star. It's just not going to happen. I'll probably never go to a movie premier or win a contest that will put me in direct view of a famous actor. That's something I'm going to have to get over. But what I can do is go find a book signing for my favorite authors. Writers (and the publishing industry) try to reach out to the fans and make themselves available to them. I've also found a better response on things like Twitter than mega-superstars. I mean, when is the last time you saw Robert Pattinson on tour meeting fans other than at a premier?
I will probably continue to look up to writers and the work that goes into their careers. I will appreciate their wit and their charm and how brilliantly they use 26 simple letters to create worlds and characters I can lose myself in. I've been looking up to Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, J.K. Rowling and many others for most of my life.

What about you? Do you look up to writers the way I do? Are there other reasons writers are special to you? Who are the writers you admire? I'd love to hear about it. Tomorrow, look forward to an update on my WIP.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reading like a Writer

There is actually a book with the same title. This really isn't about that book. It's about me, and how I read.

When I read, I look at a story not only as a reader, but as a writer. It's not something I necessarily choose. It's something I just do.

Sometimes, it's great. When I read something that blows my mind, I sit considering all the work that went into it. I think about the craft. I am excited about the little things: that word was perfect in that situation, or the foreshadowing was well executed. The very best moments I have are when something confused me as a writer at the beginning of something come together in ways I didn't expect with such perfect execution it makes me cry (true story). I think the author would appreciate the time I take to look at the specific work he or she has put into the story.

But the downside to reading like a writer is I don't let things slide easily. I see things that are wrong, that can be fixed, only there isn't anything I can do about it. I sit back and think: Man, this story has such potential, but there are some things that just aren't working. Generally, I go look at reviews and see others with similar thoughts. Sometimes readers can't place why they don't like a story. I know what specifically I don't like or what's not working for me, and I think I rely a lot on my writing background to know that.

What's hardest for me is I want to fix those things. I want to make the writing better. I want to say to the writer, "This is great, now if you just push this a little more, or cut back on this, it will be fantastic." That's probably a large reason why I want to go into publishing. It may just be caused by my years in workshops or my time spent as a copy editor, by I have a drive to make things better. And I love helping people succeed.

Do you guys have any thoughts on this? What drives you to do what you do? Do you read critically, or do you try to experience everything the author writes without thinking about things like word choice? I'd love to know!

(P.S. - I'm not trying to be conceited in this post. I know there are different people with different tastes. Many of the books I think may have flaws, loads of others loved and vice versa.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bend don't Break

In writing, being flexible is extremely important, and often overlooked I think.

Writing can't be rigid. It's organic and is constantly changing. And writers have to change with that. I know you may think that scene is perfect and absolutely needs to be there because you love it so, but you're going to have to give a little and see that maybe while the scene is fantastic, it might not fit in the overall story. Maybe it belongs somewhere else instead – whether that be another chapter or another book all together.

Because here's what happens if you don't allow yourself to be flexible: You break. You either don't allow yourself to better your writing and get things done, or you realize how hard writing is and quit. Neither of those things are good. Being able to bend will make you a better writer.

This can apply to a lot of different aspects of writing, not just my own example above. For one, deadlines. And that means it's confession time!

I'll admit it – I didn't meet the deadline I set for myself last week. I said I was going to write a chapter a day, and I didn't. But I did get three new chapters done, which is more than I've been able to produce in the three previous weeks.

And the most important part is: I'm okay with that. I recognize that my day job had to come first, and it was a pretty busy week. Then, when I would have spent a lot of time writing on my day off, instead I got the opportunity to see my parents and my grandparents – something that hasn't happened since Christmas. So, yeah, I'm okay with that.

I'm not going to beat myself up about not doing exactly what I said I was going to for my personal deadline. (Read: Work deadlines are a completely different beast that must be tamed. Do not try to get out of work things, people! That will only lead to firing.) As a writer, I understand things come up. Maybe one scene is taking a lot more time than I thought it would (true in my case) but I don't let that drag me down and allow myself to quit. I know that the time spent working that out now will probably be made up in a surprisingly easy scene later on. See? Flexible.

So what about you guys? Do you see yourself giving credit and allowing some bending when you work? Or are you such a task master that you always meet your self-imposed deadlines? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

WITHER Release and Review

I think I big congratulations are due to Lauren DeStefano for the release tomorrow of WITHER, the first installment of the Chemical Garden series. So in honor of her debut, I'm posting my review today, a day early, technically. Although, it's already been spotted out there in the wild world. So, without further ado...

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano:
From Goodreads: What if you knew exactly when you would die? 


Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.(less)
Hardcover, 356 pages
Expected publication: March 22nd 2011 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
ISBN  1442409053 (ISBN13: 9781442409057)

Plot: This woman knows how to start a story off with a bang. She knows how to start the story off with action, and keeps it up. Within the first 20 pages, I was hooked. Hard. DeStephano starts the story with Rhine in a van, thinking she's going to die. Instead she's chosen to be "saved," becoming the wife of a man she doesn't know. There is genuine tension built through the entire story as Rhine tries to think of a way out of her prison. The only downside for me was an ending that seemed a little too easy, but that could just be because I really wanted more time with the characters.

Writing: DeStephano doesn't waste time explaining things off the bat. She lets everything happen and then comes back to the explanations, mastering the idea of starting with action in the heart of the story. Her descriptions of a world where everything is beautiful but fake are fantastic. The dialog she created is realistic, but not boring. I felt a lot of the book was written in montages, as the time passed in this novel. They were extremely well done, but there were a few of them. Understandable with this story.

Characters: I love her characters. Each is unique and well-rounded. Rhine is a good main character. She's a war with herself for her want of leaving her prison and reuniting with her twin Brother, but she feels a connection to her sister wives, has quickly developed a friendship with one of the servants and is beginning to understand her husband, Linden.
     Rhine's sister wives, Rose, Jenna and Cecily, are each different. They stand out as their own people in my mind, vivid, well-rounded. They each have their own back stories and personalities. I'm impressed by how well-written they were, for just being side characters. Gabriel seemed a little washed out to begin with, but it's quickly resolved when realizing, as a servant, he's losing himself in his prison.
    Linden should be a bad guy being that Rhine and the others were forced to marry him, but he is quickly painted as innocent and more a product of upbringing than of malice. His father though, is painted as the true villain of the story. And boy does he act like it. Not in an over-the-top way, but in a way that is totally plausible and therefore all the more creepy. When I think about him, I still get chills down my spine.


Cover: This is a gorgeous cover, is it not? From the green tint, which fits in perfectly with the idea of false fauna, to the little bird in the cage, as they are all in a type of prison. The line and circle designs are beautiful and go inside to the pages, creating a very polished and finished product. And it's just gorgeous.

Overall: I enjoyed this book, so I'm giving WITHER four of five stars. This was one of those books that I couldn't wait to pick up again. And for a busy person, that's a giant compliment. The themes and the creation of the world alone are stunning. I can't wait to read more. I'm definitely picking up the second one. So you should run and get this one.

Lauren DeStefano: Goodreads I Website I Twitter

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Big D-word

Deadlines.

Don't shudder. I know deadlines can be scary. I know they're intimidating. I know they make life difficult. But, they can be a very useful tool for writers.

I live in a world of deadlines. I do. I'm a reporter. I have hard deadlines all the time. Four a week, to be specific. And you know what? I'm a better writer and get more done because of it. It's always the stories I have on deadline that I get done and the ones that I have leeway that don't. (I know, shocking, right?)

But here's the deal. You need deadlines. Without that threat looming over your head, it's hard to get things done. Trust me – I'm the queen of procrastination. I put off everything I don't have to. I make lists of things in order of their pressing need. And very rarely do I finish everything on my lists.

That's why NaNoWriMo is such a helpful tool. If you haven't heard of it, you should check it out. The whole point of NaNo is to have a deadline – have a kick in the pants to get things done. I always do well writing during NaNo because of that deadline. Right now, I'm floundering sadly like a rock in a pond.

I need deadlines to get myself to do what needs to be done. So that's why I'm setting a chapter per day deadline for myself on my WIP. (My chapters are all relatively short, so that shouldn't be that hard.) I'm announcing it to you guys so that you'll keep me honest on my deadline. I'll do the same for you, if you have deadlines too. Let me know what you do when you want to make sure to get things done.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

THE VESPERTINE Review

Yes, I'm a little late. Congratulations to Miss Saundra Mitchell and the release of THE VESPERTINE on Monday!

THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell

From Goodreads:


It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.


When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.
Hardcover, 293 pages
Published March 7th 2011 by Harcourt Children's Books

How I got it: I was fortunate enough to have access to a galley of THE VESPERTINE, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books. Thank you!

Cover: Can you think of a better, more beautiful cover for a historical romance? Because I can't. The coloring choices were well done, and I love the little wisp on the model's eye, knowing she is able to catch glimpses of the future. The design seeps into the book itself, with special separators that match the story as well. Smart choices.

Plot: Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I love this book. The plot should be simple. Amelia is sent to Baltimore where she stays with Zora and her family, who becomes a close friend. She's there to search for a suitable husband and make friends. Everything is going so well, and then Amelia starts having visions when she looks into the sunset. This only serves to make her popular, with many callers hoping to get a glimpse into his or her future. But things start to get complicated, then it all goes horribly wrong.
     Everything in this novel is building. All the little things I didn't understand and was confused by in the beginning now start to make sense. But each event builds on each other until it brings the arch to a stunning climax. I quite literally squealed with delight when I reached the ending, and instantly started reading the beginning again. And just when I thought things were starting to slow down, something would happen to start my heart racing again.

Characters: Amelia has just the right amount of excited in being in a new place without being annoying. I love her sweet disposition. The more I read, the more I loved listening to her and the more I wanted to read more of her story. She is just as confused and delighted by her interesting power, a "parlor trick" that ends up being a very deep part of who she is, and leads her to some dark places.
     I fell head over heals for Nathaniel. He has just the right amount sweet mixed with a huge amount of mystery. I swooned over him every time he entered the scene. He pushes his limits, but still cares what other people think and does try to protect Amelia's reputation. Um, Saundra? Where can I get a Nathaniel?

Writing: This is everything I could have ever asked for in a historical romance. It's everything I love about classic victorian writers – and I mean everything – and none of the silly things that bother me. Saundra does a fantastic job and giving just enough detail about something period that I understand, without bogging me down with unnecessary excess details. She has fantastic descriptions that don't go overboard like I've read in many other historical novels. And Saundra leaves in a fantastic amount of mystery weaved oh-so-cleverly into the story.

Overall: I'm running to the bookstore to pick this up now. I'm giving this book a completely well-deserved five of five stars. Oh I love this book so much. Really everyone, if you like a little bit of paranormal, a little bit of romance and a whole lot of mystery in your books, you'll love this. Like, completely.

Find Saundra Mitchell: Blog Twitter Goodreads
Buy THE VESPERTINE: Amazon Barnes and Nobel The Book Depository

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

THE DUFF Review

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger


Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 7th 2010 by Little Brown/Poppy


Plot: The plot of THE DUFF is simple, yet complicated at the same time. Its about a girl, Bianca, who is having a hard time. Her family is having some issues and it's complicated by friends and ex-boyfriends. She's under a lot of pressure - so what does she do? She falls into bed with Wesley, the man-slut. The guy who will fall into bed with anyone. I thought it was a little predictable for most of the book, and then about three-fourths of the way in I was hooked. I wanted to know the ending. And the hopeless romantic in me wanted them together so bad. I thought the ending was a little easy, but still enjoyable.

Characters: Bianca was a little hard for me to connect to. She and I have very different personalities, which may have been the largest factor. She would react violently differently in situations then I would, but that did make reading the novel a surprise for me. Wesley, however, is all worth it. Wesley is somehow charming and and utterly annoying at the same time. He was a very genuine character, and I loved Keplinger for it. Bianca's friends were oddly similar and different at the same time. Their loyalty was nice, but I was annoyed by the utter obliviousness of one.

Themes: Body issues are a large part of this novel. Everyone is painfully aware of their faults - just like in the real world. This is a novel that everyone can relate to in that way. Body issues are a tough thing in today's world where tiny runway models and skinny actresses are the women we have to look up to, that we hold up on pedestals. The way Keplinger handles these issues alone makes this book worth a read.

Overall: I'm going to give THE DUFF four of five stars. It took me a while to finally get into this book, but when I finally did, I was hooked for good. If you haven't read it, you should. I fully recommend it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Take a freaking break!

This blog post is kind of self-serving, but it has a purpose, so bear with me, please?

Last week, I had a random day and a half off from work. It was kind of nice, but instead of spending that time writing, you want to know what I did? I went and volunteered at my local animal shelter. You see, my local shelter has been having some problems lately (read more here) and can use the support.

And actually, it's a good thing. Breaks are very important when it comes to writing, although a lot of times it doesn't seem like it. I'm sure everyone feels that guilt of I-know-I-should-be-writing-right-now, but breaks are healthy. They help you take a moment and think about what you're doing. Breaks can help you when you lose focus, making you step back and look at the bigger picture. It can help you see if you're going the wrong direction. Maybe if that scene you're fretting over and having problems with may not be as important as you thought it was.

I was very stuck on my own WIP, and even though I was trying very hard to write on it, I couldn't get anywhere. After my break, it allowed me to come back and crack the whip and actually get some work done.

It can also be helpful in other ways - unexpected ones. I found myself in the company of a cat that had the most beautiful eyes. I kept trying to come up with the correct way to describe them if I'd been writing them. There are other ways pets can be helpful. Just read my lovely friend Sarah's blog post here. You can get a lot out of a simple break.

And not only that, but you can be helping out. I spent it volunteering at an animal shelter, but you can volunteer anywhere. It's a good way to get your mind off things while your subconscious works on all those problems you were having. It's the proverbial "two birds with one stone" thing.

So the next time you get stuck and frustrated, do something else. Volunteer. Do the dishes. Whatever you need to do to get your mind off things.

P.S. I feel really bad about last week and not posting more, so I'm going to try to do a post a day this week. That is the goal, at least.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS review

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

From Goodreads: Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets √Čtienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?




Hardcover, 372 pages
Published December 2nd 2010 by Dutton



Plot: I loved the story line of ANNA. Perkins was able to weave a simple love story into an intense story that held me on the edge of my seat hoping for something to happen. Perkins has mastered the art of writing suspense. ANNA tells the story of Anna, a girl who is thrust into a Paris school her senior year. She's stuck in a world where she doesn't know anyone, doesn't really understand the language and has to get along. But good thing there's √Čtienne St. Claire, who is just as swoon-worthy as the blurb promises, who steals her heart without her knowledge, and although she tries to deny it, she's drawn to him.

Characters: Oh wow. Where can I get my √Čtienne, please? Perkins wrote the kind of guy that every girl wants, but he has his quarks. Unlike some other love interests, he has traits that make him real. For instance, he's short. I love the fact he's not that super tall, lanky guy. He also has fears, flaws and family trouble, making him even more real.
     Anna is a sweet narrator and MC. She's nice and sensible and has great voice. She also has her quarks, like near-OCD, but she's caring. I love how attracted she is to movies and the little things she notices about those around her. I also really liked how she can take something and rationalize about it and still be completely wrong. It makes for an interesting character.

Writing: I mostly liked Perkins' writing style. She is very descriptive without it being annoying or being too detailed for readers to lose interest. Although, I was fairly disappointed by the descriptions of food that I'd been so excited for. I guess when you've had the food in France, descriptions are just not going to  cut it. Oh well. Everything else is well done, I thought.

Overall: I'm going to give ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS FOUR OF FIVE stars. It was a fantastic story that I immensely enjoyed. There were moments in this that made me swoon, made me jump, made me cry. Perkins took me on an emotional roller coaster, and I can't wait to get on again. A good read, to be sure.


Stephanie Perkins: Goodreads ~ Website ~ Twitter