Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So this one gets 5/5 stars--which, just so you know, I RARELY give to ANY book. Here are five reasons why I'm so blown away by Thirteen Reasons Why (as much as I'd love to give you 13 reasons, it would just take too long--though, with this book, I could SO do it).

1. Cleverness
The whole idea of telling a story in audio-tour format is just downright clever. Though at first it was confusing--I kept reading Hannah's passages in Clay's voice, and vice versa--I couldn't help but be intrigued by the idea of it. It felt so real, so possible.

2. Suspense
I read the book in one day, and in pretty much one sitting, which is extremely rare for me. But it was just that important. I HAD to finish. HAD to know, most of all, what Clay's part in the story was. And the whole time I was just amazed that the story could be so tinglingly (word? if not, it should be) suspenseful, considering from the start Asher tells us what the outcome is. When an author can give you the ending on the very first page--heck, on the front cover flap--and STILL keep you flipping through pages at Mach 10--you know you're in the hands of a master storyteller.

3. Voice
Though the story is told from Clay's perspective, it was Hannah's voice I fell in love with first. After all, you're really getting both POV's. But about 3/4 of the way through, I fell just as much in love with Clay (don't want to give too much away here). Leading up to that point, I wasn't sure about him--I wanted to like him, but there was so much emphasis on Hannah I didn't feel too much connection with Clay until--oh, snap--I can't tell you that, in case you haven't read it. =Z ANYway, moving on... Back to Hannah. You love/hate her as a character. I dunno. Can't decide one way or another. Certainly pity her. But I'll let you read and decide what you think. But there's no denying the voice is SPOT on.

4. Bravery
The subject matter Asher tackles--everything from suicide to rape--is heavy stuff. The kind of stuff that gets books banned from libraries. So my hat goes off to him for even going in this direction. I for one am completely against banning books, especially just because they deal with these kinds of issues. If anything, authors should STRIVE to address things like this, for the very reason I next address:

5. Relevance
This is one of those books that changes how you see the world. And in YA fiction, I think too often it gets to be about thrills: romantic thrills, action thrills, the thrill of magic and violence and saving the world. Not gonna lie. I'm a sucker for those, too. But while those books are fun to read, and can indeed mean more to the reader than just pure escapism, reading would be a meaningless without books like Thirteen Reasons Why. Because it's RELEVANT. There are Hannahs and Clays and Jessicas and Bryces in each of our lives, and Asher's novel not only reminds us of that--it challenges us to DO SOMETHING about it. To, in the words of another fan, "be wonderful." To reach out, touch, change, help, and just listen to someone who is hurting. To simply care, when no one else will.

I better stop here, though I could probably go on all day about this book. It was exhilarating, beautiful, heartbreaking, and transforming. I cried. You will too.

And if you haven't yet...READ IT.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do Contests Get Any Sweeter?

DUDE you have to check this out. In my Twitter wanderings I came across a really, really cool contest hosted by J. A. Souders on her blog in celebration of her three-book deal with Tor Teen (yay!). And how can I NOT love anything having to do with a fellow fantasy writer ALSO NAMED JESS!!??

 Anyway, there are TWO prize packs--and I'm not just talking a free e-book or a 5$ Amazon card. I'm talking loaded buckets of really cool stuff. Example:


Now if THAT doesn't make you drool, you better hie yourself to the nearest clinic and ask your doc to check your pulse because you MAY IN FACT BE AN ANDROID!

Anyway, you should really head over there and help Jess celebrate this incredible achievement! You have till Dec. 5 so SPREAD WORD.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

5 Ways to Jumpstart Your Novel

Maybe you're staring at a blank whiteboard, wondering when the plot fairies are going to appear and start making bullet-pointed outlines for you to fill in.

Maybe you're staring at the bland first chapters of a new novel that sounded great when you started it...but after the initial enchantment faded, you're left with a limp rag that seems utterly incapable of transformation into a magic flying carpet.

Maybe you're almost there, with great characters and a tightly woven plot... but it just seems to lack that "spark" that will make it explode across the sky.

Here are 5 tips that have worked for me when it comes to brainstorming, transforming, or injecting adrenaline into a novel:

1. Read outside the box. If all you read is YA, and all you write is YA, your writing probably isn't going to stand out from the crowd. You can't put celery and carrots in a blender and expect cookies and cream milkshakes to come out. You really wanna bring something new and fresh to your genre? Read outside it. Fiction, non-fiction, comic books or coloring books--doesn't really matter. The point is to expand your reading repertoire in order to expand the limits of your own imagination.

2. Watch a documentary. Or three or ten. You'd be amazed at how many ideas can come from something like Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking or Colony: The Endangered World of Bees. Or if you're in the midst of a novel, find documentaries related to your subject. Our world is stuffed with incredible true stories, science, and facts. Learn them. Use them.

3. Read the dictionary. No, really. Do. A single word can carry a host of other words in its shadow. Think of words like redemption, holocaust, or grief. Words like these are almost stories in and of themselves. Get out a thesaurus and explore the vastness of the English language. Go to Visual Thesaurus and get lost in maps of words.

4. Get involved in theater. Call me crazy if you want, but one of the best things that ever happened to my writing was the four years I directed and acted for my college drama club. The experience of body movement, vocalized dialogue, and other actors in conjunction with a written story is wildly invigorating. Even if you have stage fright (to which I would normally say "Get on stage, face your fear, then get over it") you can get involved in other ways like prompting, directing, or just sewing costumes. Theater is a whole lot like writing--only it takes things a couple steps further by actually putting the story into physical action. You'll leave the stage with a new arsenal of writing weapons that will make you see your novel in a whole new way.

5. Live a little. Thoreau said "How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live." Ouch. Get away from your computer, away from your house, and do something. And I don't mean go haunt a bookstore for a few hours--that doesn't count. Live adventurously. Talk to strangers. See new places and try new foods and, as that great sage Dr. Seuss said, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose... So get on your way!" Let your own life inspire your writing, and it won't just be your book that benefits.

What about you? Have any of these strategies ever worked for you in the past? What are some ways you brainstorm? Please comment--I'm always looking for new things to try! :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Letting Go: when to bid your novel farewell

Every serious writer has had to do it, myself included (on multiple counts). Letting go of a manuscript is never easy; it's like breaking up with someone you love, or thought you loved, or really, really wished you could love. You've been through that enchantment phase, the honeymoon days, everything starry and new and filled with possibility. You might have had a few fights, might have made up a couple times, muscled through the rough patches. Maybe you still feel like you're on that first date, and though you want it to work out, you're already seeing signs of trouble.

I've had to let go two complete novels and many, many false starts. To continue the dating analogy, I've broken off two serious relationships and ended countless flirtations after only one or two dates. But knowing when to say goodbye is usually never simple. It's not like you wake up in the middle of the night, sit up straight, and gasp "I've got to let it go!" At least, not for most of us.

The feeling that it's TIME is a gradual revelation. Most writers (and here I raise my hand) don't notice the warning signs until too late--or try to justify them too much. Like that guy who opens the car door for you on the first two dates, then never again. Or that girl whose texts get shorter and fewer. And we say, "Well, maybe it's nothing... just a bump in the road..."

And yes. There are bumps in the road. I doubt many of us have ever written a whole novel without at least once getting discouraged. We all have to muscle through the "muddle," that slushy, gray no-man's land between the beginning and the end of our story. We all run into "plotholes" in the road, or run out of gas. There is no perfect relationship, with man, woman, or WIP. The trick is identifying which projects are worth fighting for--and how long--and which ones should be given their luggage and shown to the door.

Here are some warning signs I myself have come across in my writing--signs you, too, may have experienced. Maybe you're trying to ignore them (like I did) or maybe you're just looking for confirmation that yes, indeed, it's time to say goodbye. Wherever you are with your writing at the moment, take a few minutes and ask yourself, "Are any of these warning signs popping up on my writing journey?"

It's just not fun anymore. This is a common symptom I get when I'm just starting out on a project. One day, probably while vacuuming or hiking, I get hit with a gleaming, screaming, Technicolor idea. Goosebumps. Increased heart rate. Swoony, moony eyes. Check, check, check. For the next few days, maybe a whole week, I'm lovestruck. I make a powerpoint of the characters, complete with photos and descriptions. I doodle cover art. I have visions of my new amour bedecking bookshelves across the nation.

Then, slowly, almost cruelly, that initial enchantment fades. I still like the idea, and I want it to work. But then come the plot holes, and the muddly middle, and there are those five or ten or fifty people I shared the idea with, who are waiting to see what will come of it... But it's just not fun. The life is gone. I'm bored with the characters, bored with the plot, bored with the premise. I don't want to be, but I can't help it. The shininess is rusted over. If no amount of plotting or staring at that Powerpoint won't bring back the same lovesick fervor I initially had, then it's time to let it go.

Ask yourself: Am I bored with my WIP?

2. Frustration. 
The pieces just won't go together. This will probably happen with every book you write, so don't take the first sign of frustration too close to heart. What I'm talking about here is the frustration that goes on for days or weeks. Plot holes keep getting deeper, no matter how much dirt you shovel in them. Characters won't get along, won't fall in love, or sit in the corner with arms crossed and refuse to move. The whole thing feels like a crumbly, groaning, too-many-sharp-points train wreck. You feel like you're throwing yourself relentlessly against walls that will never give way.

At this point, all spontaneous, organic creativity has stopped, and you've become that proverbial square peg aiming for a round hole. Everything--characters, plot,  voice--is forced. A word of advice from one who's been there many times: if writing the novel feels like swallowing cereal made of nails and broken glass, reading it will be worse. Constipated writing is bad writing. Let it go.

Ask yourself, Has my writing gone from organic to forced? (Often, taking a break from that WIP and working on another, or just taking time off to read and enjoy other activities, will loosen up those clogged pipes and surprise you with solutions you hadn't considered before).

3. It won't sell
I love my book; why doesn't anyone else? This is probably the hardest break-up to swallow. You still have that initial enchantment with your novel and you've managed to get past all your frustrations. You've polished it down to the bones, said all the right things in your query letter, maybe even gotten a few nibbles. But months go by. No agent calls. No publisher mails you a contract. You have enough rejection letters to wallpaper the school gym. But you still believe in the book--how can you possibly let it go?

This is where I was with a novel I'd spent four years writing. I still love that book, and I still think it's worth publishing. But after months of querying and only one request (which ultimately turned into rejection) I did the terrible, unthinkable deed: I let it go. I moved on. It hurt. Still kinda does. But it just wouldn't sell.

Now, some people will tell you to keep at it. That if you keep sending queries for months, even years, eventually you will get an agent or publisher. Mmm, okay, there are a few stories like that out there. But I would dare to suggest that if a book doesn't get picked up after three to six months of querying, it's gonna be a hard sell even if you do get an agent. Doesn't mean you've failed as a writer. Not by a long shot. It means you now have the opportunity to step back and see what's not working. Get feedback. Honest feedback, from people you trust and who know the market. The problem may not be your book at all; it could just be the timing and the current publishing climate. Or maybe it's a great, even publishable novel--but it's not a debut novel. You might need to make your literary introduction with something else, establish a readership, and then show your first love to the world. With my unsaleable novel, it was, I think, originality. The book was well-written, good characters, with twists on some of the old motifs--problem being, there were too many old motifs (easy pitfall with high fantasy, so look out).

Whatever the reason your book won't sell, the important thing is to move on and keep writing. I underlined that because it is just that important. I dread to think of writers who threw their whole heart into one book and, when it didn't sell, couldn't get up and move on. Writers whose dreams died with their novel all because they couldn't--or wouldn't--realize that it wasn't them who was rejected, it was just this one book. Don't take rejection personally. You are a writer. You are not one book. You have a multitude of stories in you. Write them. You're bound to write a few duds. I wrote two. Do I regret them? Not at all. I learned more from my failures than anything else. Few writing courses could teach you more about who you are as a writer than your own failed novels. Be proud of them. Talk about them. Learn from them. Don't regret them, and don't give up. And then move on.

The only reason my last novel picked up an agent and then a publisher is because I finally, with much heartache, parted ways with the novel that preceded it. You will never find the love of your life if you sit around mooning over loves you had and lost.

Ask yourself honestly, Am I holding on too tight? 

Is it time to let go and move on?

Photo credit: adriangcornejo / / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: admitchell08 / / CC BY-NC-ND
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