Sunday, October 31, 2010

I Read a Book: As You Wish

For my second review, I grabbed As You Wish, by fellow Alantan Jackson Pearce. A-town down!

Viola, a 16-year-old struggling artist and high school student, feels invisible. She's smart, but school doesn't hold her attention. She's artsy, but not cool enough to run with that crowd. She has a loving family, but who cares about them! So, Viola is left with only one friend, Lawrence, her ex-boyfriend and gay bff all rolled into one. One day, Viola wishes things were different so hard that a jinn from a parallel dimension pops into existence to grant her three wishes.

As You Wish takes a cute premise, throws in a funny scene or two, and adds more than a heaping glob of teen romance.

The big dilemma is that Viola can't decide what to wish for, and she won't use her wishes until she's certain. Really? You expect me to believe there are people out there that haven't already imaged this exact scenario and settled on their wishes? Doubtful. Here are mine, for example:
1) to be completely healthy and fit, no matter what I eat,
2) an unlimited supply of perfectly cooked Totino's pizza rolls, and
3) world peace.
Easy! Come on, Viola, get it together.

As Viola struggles to find the perfect wish, she and the jinn (now affectionately called Jinn) become better acquainted. He desperately wants to return to his home, but is also drawn to the enchanting loner who summoned him. She finds his gruff personality oddly appealing. Eventually, Viola does settle on a wish and learns that what you want isn't always what you need (maybe I should rethink my Wish #2?).

As You Wish felt much shorter than its 300 pages, even with the occasionally slow pacing. The plot was predictable at times, but there were definitely high points. One scene in particular, a conversation between Viola and Lawrence, was so honest and well-written that I thought about it for days after.

Alternating between Viola and Jinn's perspectives, As You Wish provides insights into both characters' motivations. The downside? Because of all the hopping around, I found it difficult to connect with either of them. That style of storytelling (in general) makes me feel like I'm suffering from dissociative identity disorder. Maybe there's a way to do it well, but I can guarantee that I'll never try it myself.

Overall, the message was cute, and the ending was not what I was expecting.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 2009

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to be a Finisher

There are three steps to being a “finisher.”

1. Start something.
2. Work on it.
3. Finish it.

Despite having all of the answers, I still fall victim to the Lethargarians sometimes (those gooey guys who live in the Doldrums- The Phantom Tollbooth is a fantastic story).

Take, for example, the last 26 months with my novel. Wow, writing that looks awful. 26. Twenty-six. 20 six! Twenty6?! Tw-one-tee-six.,, Goodness, that’s a long time. It really is time to finish it.

Remember my goal to read a YA novel each week and write a review? I blasted through the first two, and then… I’ve started four separate books, and I haven’t finished one of them. (I’m not going to name names, because if we’re being honest the problem isn’t all me. I’m amazed at some of the stuff that’s gotten published. I have a renewed hope for the future.)
The laundry from my vacation has still not made its way back into the closet.

The list could go on.

So, what about you guys? Does anyone have any great tips or tricks for staying focused? Or maybe a procrastination story you’d like to share?

You know, at least I have this blog. I think it’s really helping me to get words down on “paper” and to work on my

Saturday, October 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo and the Bliss of Delusional Optimism

So, it's official. I'm signed up for NaNoWriMo.

It's my first year, and I'm super pumped. When I thought of my story idea two years ago (you know, the one I am trying to finish), I kind of thought that would be it. I mean, I'd gone 25 years without getting a great idea before. I figured this was my one. I'd try to write it, and if it didn't work out, it didn't work out. I'd go back to my life of number crunching and biostatistics and leave the creating to the "professionals." But then a funny thing happened, I started to think of other ideas.

Really, it was a form of procrastination. Every time I head a stumbling block with my WIP, I'd write a little paragraph of something else. Most of them were junk, but a few weren't terrible. Then I had another great idea: a premise I really liked, a character who needed to live this story, and a mystery to top it all off.

I heard about NaNoWriMo, and decided to sign up. What a great way to put some pressure on to get something started! I've been looking forward to November for weeks now. Then, today, I had a revelation.

I was checking the NaNo site for tips, since I'm an uber noob. That's when I found this:
Bargain with those around you. Suggest to your housemates that if they take care of chores during November, you'll cover the following two months. Make sure you're not signed up for soccer game snack-duty, volunteering in the neighborhood—any helpful or productive task that isn't writing your novel—until November is past.
Reading this made me realize the following things:
There's a huge conference at work that I'll be attending.
I signed up to clean two nights a week at the cat rescue group (no easy task with >300 cats).
I am moving out of the apartment I have lived in for years in the middle of November. And I don't have anywhere to go yet.

Hmm. It'll be tough, but I still think I can do it! I probably should be more realistic about my chances of "winning" this one. But I'm already planning time to write each week. I'm going to hide my TV remote, so I won't get distracted when I should be working. And I've got an idea that I'm excited to work on.

I'll keep you posted. And if you're doing NaNo, we should be writing buddies!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Official Induction into the Internet Community

After a month of blogging, I have finally done the one thing that makes me an official part of the blogging community. In a fleeting moment of clarity and understanding, I wrote the world's greatest blog post. It might seem like I'm being modest. I can hear you know: "Elizabeth, you always write the world's greatest posts." But trust me, this one was different. This one flowed from me like a waterfall of genius.

My thoughts were clear and concise. No subject matter was of limits. I wrote about human nature and the importance of the novel. I created a new language. I detailed the technological plans for a working hovercraft. I figured out the hidden location of Atlantis. And I even tossed in a witty joke or two.

I sat silent for a second, basking in the warm light from my desk lamp. Time to share this with the whole world (a.k.a. 6 or so people), I thought. The orange “Publish Post” button was begging to be clicked.

Then I saw this:

Arggggh! At some point in time, I must have signed out of gmail, which logged me out of blogger. Back button! Back button! No luck. I couldn’t get back to the page. I frantically signed in, hoping the autosave had nabbed a recent draft. But, alas, I think after I’d logged out, it stopped saving those handy back-ups. Noooooooooooooooooooo!

Why is it that everything feels like the end of the world at 2 am?

And why was I still up and blogging at 2 am? Oh, I know the answer to that: jet lag. Ugh.

And the real question- was my blog post actually that original and hilarious and life-changing, or did it just seem that way because it was 2 am and I am insanely sleep deprived? I guess we’ll never know.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hawaii 5-0

First, I'd like to say hi to the new followers. It was way cool to get back into town and see the comments and new "faces."

Next, I'd like to apologize for my electronic absence, but I think you'll forgive me when you hear the reason. I just got back from a week in Maui. Seven days of sunshine, beaches, and exploring the island.
Volcanic sand
 Some of my favorites were:
sampling pineapple wine
traveling on the road to Hana
watching surfers in Paia Bay
swimming in Wailea
watching the sunset in Ka'anapali
sticking my toes in a black sand beach

To make our Maui trip slightly more affordable, we flew stand-by (and didn't make two flights, getting stuck in both LA and Maui) and stayed with my boyfriend’s mom, who lives way way out in the country. No lights, no people, no drinkable water. More rustic than I was bargaining for, but it made for some incredible views.

 I had big plans this week to finish my story, but that didn’t come close to happening. I only opened the file once, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty. I wish I’d done more, but with views like this, can you blame me?

New goal: finishing the first draft before November, so I can focus my energy on my new idea and NaNoWriMo.

Also, Diet Cokes have ridges in Hawaii. Weird, huh?

Okay, time to watch some bad tv, eat some good food, and attempt to readjust to EDT before I have to work tomorrow. Wish me luck.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Writer's Blocks review

After much blood, sweat, and tears (i.e., a google search), I managed to track down a few writing software packages for the PC.

I’ve been tinkering around with them, and I decided to take my mental thoughts, form sentences, type them into this glowing box, and share them with other poor PC users who are jealous of Scrivener and looking for something to fill the void.

I started with Writer’s Blocks 3.
Not an actual screenshot

I’m always amazed when I open a new program that looks like it was made in 1985. Writer’s Blocks is one of those programs. The opening screen looks like a less fun version of Zork II. Although, after I worked through the tutorial, I was pleased to discover users have the ability to change the font and color of the blocks. I adjusted the settings to be more visually appealing and continued exploring.
My second impression was that it seemed promising (the first being that I want to buy a DeLorean). The program allows users to import a manuscript, summarize plot points in boxes, and arrange boxes in columns, which logically would represent chapters. The boxes can be set to different colors which can represent themes, characters, plots lines, etc. When a box is moved, the associated text moves with it. So as you rearrange thoughts, the text rearranges to match. I will say the boxes don’t always cooperate when you try to move them, and the border does an annoying strobe effect when it’s engaged. But I have a feeling that's the kind of thing you get used to the more you use the program. It even has a word processor, so the manuscript can be directly typed and edited in the program.

Writer’s Blocks seemed like just the thing to “unjumble” the last few chapters of my book. I decided the next time I opened it I would import a few chapters and play around with their order. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance. Halfway through my 15 day trial, the program stopped opening due to an "Error in saving message." The website does offer a solution.

Apparently my User Account Control system doesn’t like one of the program’s components. I can't figure out why the program worked for several days before giving me the error message. To solve the issue, I have to run Writer's Blocks as an elevated application. I’m not going to do that, so this is the end of the road for me and Writer’s Blocks. WB, I wished we'd had more time together. I mean, we barely got to know each other!

Overall, Writer’s Blocks maybe might woulda coulda been a useful program. The blocks are a logical way to take an outline, fill it in, and rearrange it, all while working on the text in the word processor as well. There is nowhere to store character info, location details, or a timeline- which would be useful , but is clearly not the focus of this software. I’m a little concerned about the “bang for your book” aspect. It’s pricey, at $149, considering essentially it’s MS Word with post-it notes.

Requirements: 500 MHz Pentium computer or Higher
Memory: 64 MB RAM
Disk Space: 40 MB
Operating System: Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows 2000, Windows 98, Windows ME

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Read a Book: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June

As you may be aware, I'm having some trouble finishing my story. Instead of plowing through the last few chapters, lately I've been tweaking the other, more completed parts of my book as a form of "useful procrastination." The downside is that it has caused me to question the value of finishing the story in the first place, which I hear is normal when critiquing your own work.

So, in an attempt to improve my writing skills (and to curb my TV watching habit) , I'm setting a goal of reading one YA novel a week and reviewing it with a critical eye. It's like dating... before I was doing it for fun, but now I'm actually trying to learn more about what I like and what I don't like. All on my quest to find my ideal mate, um, I mean, book.
I decided to start with The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June, Robin Benway's second novel.

April, May, and June are sisters who are going through a lot: their parents just divorced, they've moved to a new town and are starting at a new high school, and they've discovered that they have supernatural abilities. April, the oldest and most responsible, can see the future; May, the rebellious middle sister, can become invisible; and June, the popularity-seeking youngest sister, can read minds.

I chose this novel because it's similar to my current project, and I thought it might be interesting to see how someone else approached  fantasy YA about girls with superpowers. Also, I loved the cover. Not only is it pretty, but the colors are reminiscent of the old Marvel and DC comics.

The novel rotates between the girls' perspectives, which makes it easy for the reader to find one they can relate to (I'm an April!). It's a bit like Sex and the City, in that the girls are a little one-sided, but more of archetypes than stereotypes.

Now, I don't have a sister, so maybe this is my inexperience talking, but something about the sisterly bond seemed off to me. Their interactions are minimal, even after they realize they have superpowers. I would have loved to see them sit down and try to figure out what was going on, but they were to distracted by their own drama (stemming mainly from boys and the popular crowd).

The pacing of the book is slow at times, and it sometimes feels more like contemporary YA than fantasy. Although it was different than what I was expecting, The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June was definitely a fun, and worthwhile, read.

Hardcover, 282 pages
Published August 2010