Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spark by Brigid Kemmerer

Spark by Brigid Kemmerer
ARC from Net Galley. Publication date: August 28th 2012.

Another addicting read from Brigid Kemmerer that adds to the nonstop action and romance of the Elementals. Compelling characters, an exciting plot, and intense romance. Yes, I loved this one just as much as the first! I was super lucky to get an ARC from the publisher -- thank you, Kensington!

So, Spark is a bit different from Storm, mostly because Gabriel and Layne are a lot different than Chris and Becca. But it's just as addicting!

The story was really neat. Fires are popping up all over town and Gabriel, being a Fire Elemental, is blamed for it when in actuality he's trying to help people escape. He's also trying to catch back up in math since his new substitute teacher caught on to him and Nick swapping places when a test came up. Tying it all together is girl in his class named Layne who is driving him crazy as he tries to figure her out. There is a lot of stuff going on, actually, but those are the big things.

I liked the chance we had to see into Gabriel's head. In Storm, he seems like kind of a hothead and in Spark, we see some of his motivation, some of what he's thinking and going through. I felt bad for him, but there were also times when I wanted to smack him upside the head. I think that's a sign of great characterization, when you can love and hate someone at the same time. Just like in real life.

Gabriel and Layne had really good chemistry. They were kind of all over the place, highs and lows, but their personalities made for a relationship like that. They're both kind of headstrong and stubborn and they were super cute together. I liked Layne and how she was different from Becca, being more reserved and having more secrets. I loved even the minor characters that Brigid Kemmerer introduces, especially Simon.

And the plot, like I said, was so addicting! Something new was always happening, whether it was something kind of character-driven like Gabriel and Layne getting to know each other, or something bigger and more intense, like another fire. I like how Kemmerer balances that all out, the characters and the action. She's one of my favorite new authors this year.

I'll be honest, I'm not that thrilled that the next book is about Hunter. I don't know, I can't get a read on that guy. I want to like him but he always seems to be looking out for himself. Maybe I'll like him more after Spirit. Which I still can't wait for, even if it is about Hunter.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Writing Prompt: 36 Minute Short Story

I'm back with another writing prompt idea for anyone stuck, anyone with writer's block, or anyone just looking for a new idea! This is something I heard about from the folks in my writing group. We randomly pulled cards from a few different decks (one deck was "setting", another "character") then from our four cards, wrote a short story in 36 minutes. 

Now, I'm not 100% sure how to do this random thing, so here's what we're going to do for the blog setup.

For your CHARACTER ADJECTIVE, choose a number from 1 to 5. 
For your CHARACTER NOUN, choose a number from 6 to 10. 
For your SETTING, choose a number from 11 to 15.
For your PROP, choose a number from 16 to 20. 
For your ACTION, choose a number from 21 to 25. 

I know it's kind of weird, but bear with me! And choose the numbers before you go on and see the lists. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Day at the Beach in Barcelona

I'm taking a fiction workshop at my school this summer. I thought I'd post some of the exercises I'm doing. This is a one-page autobiography based on one event in my life.


The beach in Barcelona is beautiful. The deep blue water stretches out for miles on either side of us. To the left of us, a group of friends gathers on towels. They’re fully clothed, not here to swim but just to enjoy the sun. I’m wearing my bathing suit, but the water is colder than I expected and I can’t stay in it for long before I decide I’d rather lay in the sun with my book. Behind us, a couple plays badminton, both of them shirtless. We thought we’d avoided the nude beach, but even here, women sit around, shirtless, nonchalant.

For what has to be the tenth time, an Arab man passes by, saying, “Agua, cerveza, cold water, cold beer.” He has a rhythm to the words, and we try to avoid his eyes every time he walks by, trying to sell his goods. When we first got here, we declined him, but then Chris bought a beer from another man with a backpack selling drinks, so now he feels guilty. His beer sits open next to me, not in a paper bag like it would be back home.

Chris strums his ukulele, the twangy sound mixing with the crashing waves on the beach only a hundred feet away. His ukulele reminds me of Hawaii and its long, warm days and his visit, that week when I fell even more in love with him. It reminds me of the iPod he got for me when we first started dating and the Beirut songs I listened to as I jogged around the neighborhood, passing freshly manicured lawns and plumeria trees. I love that he picked the instrument up and brought it on our trip to Spain. I love traveling with him, seeing these new places and experiencing them with him. I know that in a couple months, we’ll be reflecting on all we did and saw and we’ll get that bug again to go somewhere. We’ll save up, eating top ramen for a couple months until we can travel to a new place and make more memories.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing Prompt: Fantasy Art

You are so lucky. I've decided to post prompts every Friday AND Tuesday. These writing prompts should help get your creative juices flowing and battle writer's block. Find new ideas or add to your existing stories!

This week, I've decided to feature some fantasy art. I have attributed the proper artist and I expect you to do the same if you repost this photo anywhere. This is their very hard work and they deserve to be credited for such talent! Click through for the listing on deviantart if you want to comment or support them.

Use these photos to spur on a story. Ask yourself: who is this person? What are they going through? How did they come to the point in the picture? What's happening?

CREDIT: Jessica at Enchanted Whispers

CREDIT: Lienwyn

CREDIT: burari

CREDIT: michalivan


Friday, June 22, 2012

Writing Prompt: Last Sentences

Hey, everyone! I know there are tons of writing prompts all over the internet, but sometimes we still need some creativity boosts. Writer's block can get in the way, we can be pressed for time or creativity. So here's the start of a regular feature on the blog where I'll post prompts to get your creative juices flowing!

This week, I thought it would be neat to do last sentences instead of first sentences. See if you can incorporate these last sentences into your next short story, novella, or even novel!

1. Things hadn’t changed at all.

2. Rebecca dropped the key into the river and watched as it disappeared in the rushing, frantic water.

3. Sometimes, she still wondered if he thought about her.

4. That was the last time he saw her.

5. I never made that mistake again.

6. We got lost.

7. We visited him in prison as often as we could until he died of a heart attack two years before his release date.

8. She whistled as she walked away from me forever.

9. He was too tall, anyway.

10. I could never fix the thermostat after that.

11. That concert was the best night of my life.

12. I almost picked up her crutch and bashed her across the skull with it, but somehow, I refrained.

13. The shock of electricity reminded me I was still alive, still vulnerable, still susceptible to hurt, even death.

14. He looked at her like she’d said something novel, like he’d never heard such a wonderful thing.

15. The scars never truly went away.

16. “Oh, sure, right after I invent the Internet.”

17. We decided to go to the 1920s in Paris.

18. Nothing could keep them apart, no matter how much they hated each other.

19. The stars were bright that night, almost blinding.

20. And finally, somehow, she fell asleep.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Navigating Ebook Publishers

As ebooks and ereaders become more and more popular, we're seeing a lot of new ebook publishers pop up. Ebook publishers are generally independent publishers (unconnected with "the Big Six") who deal primarily with ebooks, though some publishers will have a POD option for novels. In this day and age, how is an author to know that an ebook publisher is trustworthy? Try these handy tips if you found a new ebook publisher you're not sure about.

Look at the website
When you find an ebook publisher's website, ask yourself:
-- Is this website professional? If the website looks sloppy and has lots of errors, how will they treat your cover design or your editing?
-- Can I find all the information I need easily, or does it seem like they're hiding some things? Some information should be easily seen, and you shouldn't have to hunt it down.
-- Is this a website I would mind sending friends, family, and fans to? Your publisher should not embarrass you, you should be proud of them!
--This is an important one: Is the ebook publisher's website targeting readers or writers? If they're brand new, they may need to target writers in order to get submissions and build their catalog. But if they have been around for a while and have some books out, they should be marketing those books! A publisher is for readers, not writers. They shouldn't be trying to make money off of writers, for sure. If you're asked to pay anything, run the other way. That's vanity publishing, and if you truly want to follow that route, at least go with an established vanity publisher instead of someone brand new.

Look at the staff
There should be bios for the staff members somewhere on the website. You should know who you will be submitting your work to and who you'd be working with should they choose to publish your book. Check out:
-- Positions: how many editors do they have? What kind? Do they have any publicists or marketing associates? Do they hire a cover artists or do they go freelance?
-- Experience: what kind of experience does the staff have? Experience in publishing? In writing? Are they just authors who thought it would be fun to start a publisher?
-- Google those names if you feel like you don't have enough information about them. See if you can find them on social networks and see how they act in the public sphere. What kinds of books do they read? Are they authors themselves?

Look at the terms
It's rare that the publisher will have a contract online, but they should at least have something on their website about what formats they publish in (print or ebook, for example) and how royalties will be divided (how much the author earns and how much the publisher keeps). If this isn't available on the website, don't hesitate to e-mail someone and ask. I'd also ask why it wasn't available.

If you submit a book and you're offered a contract, comb through that thing with a fine-tooth comb! Here is an extremely condensed list of things to look for:
-- Rights. What rights/license are you granting the publisher and for how long? What is the geographic scope?
-- Copyright. Who will register it and when?
-- Manuscript delivery. When are you expected to deliver the manuscript? What editing do they provide?
-- Payment. Is there an advance? Royalties? How are these royalties calculated? For example, net and gross and cover are all different prices and thus will give you different royalties. How often are you paid royalties? Is the publisher required to send you accounting statements?
-- Publication itself. Look for a duty to publish, advertising/promotion, galleys, method of publication.
-- Termination. What are the terms for reversion of rights?

Ebook publishers should be willing to answer questions you have and possibly negotiate the contract. Do your research and know what you're signing because that is a legally binding document and if doesn't matter if "you didn't know", you signed it and you have to stick to it.

For more information, check out Writer Beware's post on contracts or this checklist written by attorney Lloyd J. Jassin (for publishers).

Look at any existing books in the catalog
Obviously, since there are new publishers all the time, some publishers don't have books released yet. But for those who do, find those books and be ruthlessly brutal and honest in regards to those books.
-- Genre: is the publisher accepting all books (and possibly spreading themselves too thin) or are they targeting a niche where they can be more effective?
-- Cover art: do these covers match up with other books in the genre? Does it look like they were made with paint or have they invested in the marketing package of their books?
-- Blurb and sample: are there errors? Do the blurbs and samples snag you? Have they carefully edited and proofread their work or do they throw books up in the hopes of making some money?
-- Distribution: are the books available on a variety of e-retailers, or only a few? Where will they distribute your book?
-- Reviews: search for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs. What do readers think of these books? Have any readers read these books?
-- Marketing: A simple Google search with the title and author will tell you how much marketing work the publisher has done. If only a couple of the results are for this book, reconsider what this publisher will be willing to do to publicize your book.

The important thing to remember is not to rush into something. This is your hard work and it should be presented in the best way possible. Take your time with publishers and make sure it's what you want.

Personally, I'm a content editor with a new ebook publisher called Entranced Publishing, and of course I fully endorse them. I believe Entranced is dedicated to producing quality books for readers and that they'll use honesty and professionalism in their dealings. Drop by the website if you want and see if we might be a good fit for your novel. Oh, and a small disclaimer: this post does not represent Entranced view's, only my own.

Here are some places to check up on publishers:
Absolute Write's Bewards, Recommendations & Background Checks
Preditors & Editors
Writer Beware

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

Published 2012, hardback edition, library copy (but I'm getting my own asap!!)

This is one of those books that pulls you in, makes you fall in love, then tears your heart out. It's one that doesn't care about your feelings or your fragile heart. It also doesn't care what else is going on in your life, it demands to be read and enjoyed, no matter who you live with or what they want. It's a book that is honest, funny, loving, sad, and beautiful. The characters are real and you miss them the moment you're done with the book. Their struggles become your own. The writing describes so many things so well, the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl and the streets of Amsterdam and the beauty of life. 

I feel kind of pretentious just writing this review, but I can't believe that books like this exist. Books like this make me question why I even write. Why even try when it won't be this good? But books like this also give me inspiration to write. They fill me with this passion for words and stories and the things we can create with our language. This book takes spot on the shelf of my favorites right next to The Things They Carried and The Book Thief

In short, it's a book that I loved for so many different reasons, and I hope you do, too

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Published 2012, hardcover, library copy.

Whenever I hover between 4 or 5 stars, 4 or 5 stars, I choose 4 stars because I feel like if it was a 5 star book for me, I would know! So, I'll say 4.5 stars :)

The situation in this post-apocalyptic Chicago quickly escalates as factions take sides and Tris and her friends fight to stay safe. Tris is dealing with the aftermath of the Erudite-controlled attack on Abnegation at the end of Divergent and the choices that she made. She and Tobias start off strong, but secrets and reckless decisions threaten to tear them apart. By the end of this book, I was on the edge of my seat as the climax approached and things kept escalating. 

This was a great sequel to Divergent. I know a lot of people complained that Tris was moody and depressed, but come on, this was nothing compared to Katniss in Mockingjay. Tris was still pretty awesome. Reckless, yes, but I love the girl. And let's be honest, it's not often that highly commercial fiction like this has a distinguishable main character that couldn't be identified as any generic female reader. Tris, though? She's smart and perceptive and brave and loyal and funny and she went through so much at the end of the last book, she was bound to be messed up in this one. 

One thing that bugged me was Tobias and Tris' insistence to keep secrets from each other. That got a bit old. 

Aside from all of this, the escalation in the plot was intense. You see so many different characters and ambitions fighting for what they believe is right, and things just go downhill as everyone clamors for control. At times, I have a hard time remembering all the various characters in the series -- took me a while to remember who exactly Uriah, Zeke, Lynn, Marlene, Christina, Will, and Edward were. Lots of names to attach to faces! Some of her minor characters are very distinct, like Marcus or Johanna, but some needed more work (like all the Dauntless kids Tris' age). But by the end of this book, I feel like I have a better grasp on them. 

And that ending?! Wow. I knew it was going to be some cliffhanger because for some reason I read the last sentence (I used to do that all the time then I stopped because I was afraid of spoiling myself). 

So, yeah, when's the next one come out? XD

Cover thoughts: LOVE these covers. The skyline of Chicago with the single image of the tree is awesome. I can't wait to see the next one!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
Published 2011, US hardback edition (not pictured), library copy.

Wow! I've heard so much about this book and I'm so glad I read it.

Laini Taylor's beautiful writing + a unique fantasy world + a Romeo and Juliet love story = an amazing novel!

The story moves along at a great pace -- so much happens and the characters go through so much. Karou is an awesome protagonist -- curious determined, funny, but she also feels like something is missing in her. She grew up with a group of chimaera -- creatures from fantasy stories, made up of various animals. She doesn't know where they came from or where she herself came from, and the arrival of a mysterious seraphim drastically changes her life.

The characters and the world work together to make an entrancing story. There is so much going on -- romance, the war, family, loyalty. The fantasy/magic world is unique, both dark and creative, drawing from folklore and religions but also injecting new life and original ideas.

The romance is phenomenal! I find myself look for more romance in my books than I used to, and this one was not lacking. There is so much chemistry, love, and heartbreak, all wrapped up in Taylor's beautiful writing.

The ending tied so much together yet at the same time was a semi-cliffhanger. September can't get here fast enough!

Cover thoughts: Everyone loved the US cover, but I thought it was kind of. . .sloppy. I actually thought it was a self-published book for a while. I like the UK cover much more (the one pictured).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn
Published 2011, Kindle edition.

I liked this book, but something it keeping me from giving it 4 stars. The premise is very cool. In a future America, everyone can read minds and communicate with one another through a kind of mindspeak. Except for our main character Kira. She hasn't gone through the change yet, making her a zero and a social outcast. When she meets a mysterious boy named Simon, though, she finds out she's actually a jacker and she can control people through their minds, and she's not alone. . .

The writing is crisp and clear, and the story interesting. The second half is full of twists and turns and revelations. i think where the book was lacking, though, was in characterization. The story/plot itself was cool, but Kira, Simon, Raf -- they felt more two-dimensional than full-fledged characters. 

Kira does go through a lot and she's the most fully-fleshed character, but still I couldn't get a gull grasp on her. She was very determined and pretty badass towards the end, but when I try to picture Kira in the real world or another context, I can't. I'm not 100% what makes her tick, what she would be like if she weren't in danger all the time. 

That aside, like I said, this was a very neat read. Great world building, very cool science fiction, and some awesome action!

Cover thoughts: I love it. The hand and the eyes work together for a great composition!