Monday, February 28, 2011

Inspiration and... Cemeteries?

Sorry for the lateness of the post, guys. This last week and weekend was utterly killer.

(As an aside, my response to Sarah's post on Tuesday... I'm such a pantser it's not even funny. Even when I try to plot, I'm a miserable failure. This last WIP I wrote out the entire plot from beginning to end on stickies, worked on it for ages, but already I've deveated from it. Tragic, right? So many sticky-lives, lost.)

I thought I would talk a little about inspiration today, and what inspires any number of things in writing. When I first started getting into actual novel writing (as opposed to short pieces of work that were never finished, along with fan-fiction) I heard a lot of more seasoned writers talking about how they would often use real-life experiences and weave them into their work. At the time, I thought, "I could never do that. It would be too weird."

But the more I write, the more I notice little signs of my real life woven between the lines. Places are especially important in my current WIP, which is set in a fictional version of my city and has some fantastic and interesting locations. (Like the underground tunnels in Old Sacramento where the original city was built.)

Now and again, it will be one of these places or a line that someone says that inspires a scene, no matter how small and insignificant. This last weekend, I went to the Old City Cemetery here in Sacramento and it, too, inspired me to set a scene there. (I also learned there are possibly hundreds of bodies buried under Broadway Street just outside the cemetery. Random fact. You're welcome.)

To switch gears a little... easily my biggest inspiration, though, is music.

I have a hard time writing if something isn't playing that matches the mood. It's why I keep a running playlist for all my works, so I can put the right music on and immediately get myself in the groove for any particular scene or character.

(Someday, I hope all these fancy e-readers have some kind of interactive tool where authors can assign songs to certain parts of the book if the reader wants to listen while they read. WOULDN'T THAT BE COOL? ... I thought so, anyway.)

For anyone wanting some awesome mood music without real vocals, I would check out the band E.S. Posthumus. You might recognize some of their work from a lot of movie trailers, like the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean series. Some amazing music.

What inspires you? Music, people, places? Do you people-watch and listen in for authentic dialogue? Do you like visiting new places in hopes of finding your next story or scene setting?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pros & Cons of Online Writing Forums

Inkpop, Authonomy, Fiction Press, Figment! There are so many websites dedicated to writers. Some are privately owned, while some, like Inkpop and Authonomy, are owned by companies such as HarperCollins. There is a lot of speculation and fear about posting one’s writing to the internet. I uploaded my writings to Inkpop, but I respect others who fear to do so. Please do what feels comfortable to you, but I’m here to explain why, for me, the benefits outweigh the possible downfalls.

Stolen Work or Ideas - This is understandably very scary for writers. Until we are published, we don’t want anyone getting their sticky fingers near our ideas. This is an honest danger, and there are horror stories out there, but I didn’t worry so much about this one. For one, Inkpop has disabled the copy and paste function, which makes it a lot more work for someone to steal. Majority of online writers are focused on getting feedback on their own work. I have a hard time imagining that someone is hard-up for a story idea, so they take the time to read through a bunch of unpublished works for inspiration. If this is a fear for you, one way to bypass is not to upload your entire project. Only share the segments on which you need critique. My best advice: do not post your entire story online!
Copyright - This concept is often misunderstood. In the US and many countries, you own the copyright on everything you write the moment it hits the paper. Posting to an online site actually gives a better record that it is, indeed, your work and has been since at least the date you posted. You own it and you can remove it at any time.
Online Work Loses Value with Agents and Publishers - If this was true, HarperCollins would not have started two writing sites, and they certainly would not be publishing anything that they find on said sites. From what I’ve seen, agents and publishers don’t care if you’ve had a team of online writer friends reading and critiquing your work. My agent did recommend not to post the ending, but I’d already taken that precaution. In fact, my agent said that sites like Inkpop are a good way to build a network and “fan base”. Leigh Fallon’s writings are still sitting pretty and available to read on Inkpop this very moment.
Better Writing - My personal experience with Inkpop has been amazing. Posting my first book on there was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Why? I have a problem writing those introductory chapters. I can bang out the body of a story, no problem, but the first chapters are a bumbling mess. Within a month of posting my story online, I had received so much honest, helpful feedback that my introduction took on a complete facelift, turning into something beautiful that I don’t think I could have managed on my own. You have to be willing to take the critique without feeling insulted, though.
Motivation - I can’t count the number of comments I received that lifted my spirits. As writers, positive feedback is our fuel. There is much needed encouragement available from online writing groups if you’re willing to invest the time. Some of the people I met on Inkpop have become valued beta readers outside of the site, and even more importantly, they've become friends.
Helping Fellow Writers - You can’t join an online writing group and expect to receive without giving. Inkpop was like a part-time job for me during the Spring of 2010. In order to continue getting feedback and moving up the ranks, I had to give feedback of my own and support others in their journey. There is something soul-satisfying about helping one another reach our potentials.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Use it!

Before I start my post - we have a winner!! Bee the Book Crusher won the Shirley Marr contest! Shirley will be in contact soon.

Now onto Using it:

I had a very bad day. Well actually, my very bad day started yesterday when the taxi service decided to bump down my priority for people going to the airport (where did they think I was going!) and made me miss my flight. Then my flight home was delayed by two hours and when I drove home the engine light came on.

When I rang my boss to tell her that I'd missed my flight her words were "Sharon, you just can't catch a break can you." She's right. I've indeed had not just a bad couple of days, or even a bad couple of months but a year. The low-lights being the death of my Grandma in June followed by my father's terminal cancer diagnosis a week or so later.

Dad had to have his first blood transfusion on my son's birthday, he had a biopsy on my mother's birthday and he died five days before my birthday. I've never cried so much in my life.

I thought after everything I'd been through I was owed some good things in my life, but instead I have thing annoying little things still cropping up like missing my plane and two-hour delays.

It hit me after my boss spoke about how unlucky I've been, it would be a great concept to explore for a novel, are people owed good things if they've had a run of bad luck or are people who have gotten away with something terrible really going to get their comeuppance. I've started plotting the story.

So the lesson for me is, no matter what life throws at you, as a writer you can use it.

Speaking of which I have something special for you. It's the fast-fiction I wrote the day after Dad died.

The First Night Without You Here

The night is silent without you here. The house feels empty. Immediately I look to your bed, expecting to see you in it – but I know you are gone.
I embrace her for you, but my arms are not the ones she wants. She wants yours. Not mine. I move around the house in a comatose state – like you were before.
We finally go to bed, exhausted after hours of talking about you. Dreams come to take me, but her howling cries break the silent night and I rush to her in your place.
I hold her like I would my child, her body shaking from her sobs. She misses you already, even though it has only been hours. I stroke her hair and speak calming words, while my sister holds her hand. The hand you held for years, the hand that will never hold yours again in this life.
She calms.
“Would you like me to sleep in here with you tonight?” I ask.
She nods and whimpers a yes in response. I am lying where you lay, where you died, where your last breath was drawn, where you expired.
The three of use lay there as she rambles through her shock, talking about your last days, hours, minutes. We were told twelve months, then a few months, then a few weeks, then a few days. In the end it was a few hours.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pantsers and Plotters

If you're looking on advice on plotting, you may want to go somewhere else. Before I write a book, my summaries sound like this: "So there's this person in this kind of world. THEN! Bad things happen." Usually, something explodes. OK, if I'm being honest, lots of somethings explode.

Pantsers vs. Plotters is the aspect of writing methods I find most fascinating. There are Pantsers like me and Nora Roberts (yeah, see what I did there?) who start with a general idea or snippet of something, sit down at their chosen media and let the story take them down whatever road it chooses. Then there are Plotters who I imagine have plotting systems that take more time than it takes to write the actual book. And then there are people at every single little miniscule point along the spectrum. Somewhere in between the Plotters and Pantsers there are the Plotsers, Plantsers (a word I'm not entirely convinced wasn't made up by Corrine O'Flynn last night), and even the Panters (a word I made up two minutes ago because it makes me giggle).

The reason why this fascinates me so probably has something to do with my education. In school (especially those run by the DoD), we're often told there's only one correct approach to a task - the way the teacher does it. I honestly think it took me so long to get serious about creative writing because I felt that I was "doing it wrong."

Remember the creative writing assignments where we had to submit the outline for the story a few weeks before the story? I LOATHED those. It's not that I couldn't do it, but - even then - I knew the quality of my plot was far inferior when I was forced to outline ahead of time. These plots were contrived, cliched and boring. It didn't take long for me to discover - sneaky little over-achiever with nothing else to do that I was - how much better I did if I just went ahead and wrote the story first and base my outline (by then it was really a synopsis though, huh? I hate those too) on that.

(and teacher-friends, please don't get mad at me. I understood the point, what you were trying to teach us. I just also understood that it sucked.)

I did this (and got good grades) but it made me feel dirty, like I was a misfit. It wasn't until, while researching before signing up for my first NaNoWriMo, I read Nora Roberts discuss her plotting (or lack thereof) that I thought maybe I wasn't such a freak after all. She says:

"Honestly I don’t do a thing. I have a basic idea in my head, I do whatever research needs to be done – and will continue to research throughout the course of the book – and then I sit down and start. That’s it. Oh, and I try to make sure there is a good supply of Diet Pepsi in the house. And pretzels or some salty thing. And chocolate."

(side note: after reading thisinterview, I've decided that Nora Roberts and I are the EXACT SAME PERSON. I'm just the personality that prefers Coke Cherry Zero over Diet Pepsi. And minus some romance, add some magic, and lower the MC's age. And, you know, without one of those pesky little publishing contracts. But whatever. Other than that...)

On the plotting side, I know there are writers who are as in to it as I am against it. Though I can't possibly understand how Plotters can do their thing, I'm not going to tell you it's a bad idea. Some can't start a book until they know the ending. I met a girl who was starting her book after finishing the 75 page outline. There are entire books written about methods involving color-coded index cards on multiple cork boards connected by interweaving pieces of yarn that represent something I can't even imagine.

And what I'm trying to say is: That's cool too.

If you've always used the same method, I'd suggest to give the other side (I like to think of Pantsing as the Dark Side - that's right: I'm a Sith writer) a try. But once you find a method that works for you, don't let anyone tell you you're doing it wrong. Because my ex-Marine drill sergeant sophomore English teacher is the one who was wrong: there is more than one way to arrive at a great story.

What about you? Are you a Sith Pantser or a Jedi Plotter? Or somewhere in between?

PS: When we reach 200 followers, I'll do a giveaway!
<---- Clicksies over there :-)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Awesome sequels

You get book one and read it. Instantly you fall in LOVE with the story. So, you anxiously await book two in the series, rushing down to get it the day it releases. Crack it and you're let down. Of course this is a taste thing. What could let me down, others might love. But when this does happen to you, it's incredibly frustrating, isn't it? I don't know if it's just you lose that first feeling of love in the second book, or if you go into it expecting certain things unlike when you go into the first book, but this has happened to me a few times. It breaks my heart each time.

I like to be positive though. So I'm not going to spend my time talking about sequels I didn't love, I want to talk about sequels I DID love. One such book is Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting.

I don't know why people aren't talking about this series EVERYWHERE. I absolutely loved both books. The bad guy was creepy in book one. In book two troubled but still in a way that made you uncomfortable and when it all comes down in the end, there are SO many emotions.

Not to mention Jay. Heart him. Love him. Such a cutie. I'm a sucker for best friends falling in love and Jay and Violet are one of my favorite such couples.

I was so happy that this sequel was just as wonderful as the first book. The Body Finder was one of my favorite reads of 2010 and Desires of the Dead is definitely one of my favs so far of 2011.

What are some of your favorite book twos? What do you think it is about them that makes them work?

PS, sorry for the late post. I have a kiddo with the flu and completely spaced it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Contest winner!

Just a quick note to announce my contest winner...

Are you curious....

Do you really want to know....

Tired of my stalling....

LOL. The winner is vivien! Please email me at with contest winner in the subject line!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

First Sight

Have you ever seen or met someone who you're instantly drawn to? Like they have a specific gravity to them that draws you closer. Your heart starts racing, beating so hard you hear it in your head, and a tingling feeling starts in your stomach before spreading to the rest of your body. And then you meet the person's gaze and everything seems to stop just so you can bask in each other's eyes. Suddenly, you're face to face with this person and you know, you both know, that you have fallen in love at first sight.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? :-) I'm one of those people that truly believes people can fall in love practically instantly. I think that's why I don't hate YA stories where the two leads fall in love quickly. I will admit, though, that some instant love stories are rather unbelievable, but for the most part I don't mind them. Love is something everybody wants, especially teens and I think that's why the YA romance genre is so popular right now. I think falling in love at first sight is ridiculously romantic, but some think it's impossible and that all these YA novels give teens skewed perceptions of love.

Do you all believe in love at first sight? Do you like books where the characters fall in love in a span of, like, two chapters? :-) I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When Love is Too Easy (& winners!)

Disclaimer: The opinions I'm about to give relate ONLY to literary love and not the real kind that you may or may not be going through...

I had to put the above out there because, like most people, I think love is a great thing. I think that having someone, a partner, who is not only your best friend but your soul mate is something you don't get to experience very often and when you do, it's priceless. I believe that when you have it, the real kind at least, you should hold onto it with both hands and never let it go.

But...I think that kind of love is very boring to read about. Now, before you think 'what the hell is this girl talking about', let me explain.

Hypothetically, I'm reading about Sam and Laura. They meet. It's a very straight forward introduction to one another. Maybe they meet at school. He's new and she falls madly in love at first sight. They begin to talk and wow! Sam admits he likes her too. Dating ensues, a little bit of hesitant kissing and they become boyfriend and girlfriend. And then NOTHING ELSE HAPPENS.

Maybe the plot isn't centred around Sam and Laura and so it's like nothing needs to be dramatic between the two of them. Maybe they are just THAT perfect. No arguments, no difference in vocal opinions. Laura might narrate that Sam was being a little harsh, but to his face she's supportive. Maybe Laura is actually a vampire slayer who kicks butt and the plot focuses around her saving the world. Not around her relationship with Sam.

But I still find that boring. If a relationship is too sweet and too perfect - I get bored FAST. I stop rooting for the couple. I lost interest and I begin to roll my eyes at some of the things they say and do. I lose focus on the actual plot and start to pick holes in the two perfect relationship, longing for some substance, some kind of issue that may make the couple have to step away and think only to realise they can work through it. Call me odd, but I like an argument every now and again! Making up is the best part of breaking up after all.

So as much as I love a good romance, I will not enjoy a book if the romance isn't developed realistically. Who here can ever say they've never had an argument with a partner? Or entered rocky grounds where they panic for maybe a day that this isn't their soul mate because he left the toilet seat up? Easy love does not lead to good entertainment for me.

Onto you guys. Who agrees? Who doesn't agree? Who likes to read about easy, sweet love because it's nice to read about it when they're not experiencing it themselves? Or who likes problems so our literary couples can overcome it?


The winners of the Angelfire giveaway are...
*drumroll please*

Shannon the Bookstalker wins a copy of Angelfire!

Grig wins some Angelfire book swag!

Look out for an email in your inbox at some point today/tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Tuesday Twaddle - The Anti Valentine's Day

Firstly, I have a confession to make. I totally forgot it was my turn to post today. Oopsie! AND the YAtopia gang has been doing the whole homage to love and romance, and after a somewhat crappy Valentine’s Day, I’m not really feeling the love. So, I’m breaking ranks with my fellow bloggers (sorry guys) and I’m going turn viciously on the day that is all pink and fluffy.
I’ve always hated St Valentine’s Day. From the moment I hit puberty, I was painfully aware that I was not one of lovelies who was going to be inundated with balloons, cards, messages of undying love, and heart shaped chockies. There were always the groups of squealing girls in school showing off their Valentine's swag and trying to guess what hottie from the boy's school next to us fancied the pants of them.
So I ignored all things teen romance and scorned anything that came close to resembling pink and heart shaped. Let’s be honest, most of those girls probably sent that swag to themselves. I kind of guessed it at the time, and I’m fairly sure of it now. Fourteen year old boys have better things to spend their cash on.

And if there’s one thing we learn from all these gorgeously romantic books that we read (and write), it is that life isn’t supposed to be roses and chocolates. All the best romantic couples from both film and literature had to suffer for their love. Indeed, in most movies the pink and fluffy couples are usually first to bite the big one. It’s the hopelessly mismatched, seemingly doomed relationships that capture our hearts.
They say romance is dead… well I say, yeah they’re so right! In fact, in a lot of the most amazingly romantic stories it helps to be dead. Let’s face it, zombies, vampires, and ghosts make for the best boyfriends/girlfriends, and I believe them to be a product of the imagination of the thirteen year old in all of us, who secretly watched the pink orgy that is Valentine’s Day and quietly seethed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

In the spirit of Valentine's Day (and I get the joy of updating on the actual holiday, too!), I'm keeping with the YAtopia ~love~ theme!

I'll admit, I've never been a huge fan of the obsessive can't-EXIST-without-you kind of pairings, be them in books, games, movies, anime, whatever. The co-dependency, such as that seen in Twilight (don't hurt me!) and the way Bella completely shuts down without Edward around really doesn't do it for me.

Me? I like the couples who aren't afraid to oppose each other. The ones who don't necessarily love everything about one another. In fact, there are things that drive them absolutely nuts. It's the girl who comes home and chucks her diary against the wall because her one-true-love isn't perfect.

Howl and Sophie are one of my all-time favorite book couples for this exact reason.

(Nevermind that Howl is also one of my literary crushes...)

Sophie can be pushy and naggy, while Howl is... well, in Sophie's own words:

"You talk, mighty mistress of magics," he quavered. "Tell me of this Wizard Howl of yours."

Sophie's teeth chattered, but she said proudly, "He's the best wizard in Ingary or anywhere else. If he'd only had time, he would have defeated that djinn. And he's sly and selfish and vain as a peacock and cowardly, and you can't pin him down to anything."

"Indeed?" asked Abdullah. "Strange that you should speak so proudly such a list of vices, most loving of ladies."

"What do you mean, vices?" Sophie asked angrily. "I was just describing Howl."

There's even a line where Howl comments about how Sophie isn't at all pretty. (She's incredibly plain.) But they compliment each other so well, and there's no one either of them loves more than each other.

On top of that... I'll admit, I'm a sucker for trios. Whether it's a strong friendship bond or a romantic one, I fall all over it. Sadly, I haven't read many books yet where this is done, since the recent YA trend tends to be an MC with two potential opposing love interests (but it's common in the anime and video game world). Which sort of drives me nuts. Not because I think having two love interests is bad, but because of the MC's who are too wishy-washy to make up their mind and lead both interests on – and the interests put up with it.

The above also ties into my last romantic love: the best friend bond. The two who have been friends for ages, who may or may not end up together, but most of the time I'm rooting for it to happen.

What about you, darling readers? What kind of relationships do you find yourself rooting for the most in your favorite books?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Looking for Mr. Perfect? Open a Book!

I read a one-star review for Twilight written by a young man who admittedly did not read the book; however, he felt led to give it the lowest rating because his girlfriend broke up with him after reading it. Apparently he wasn’t “Edward” enough for her. Hmm. Perhaps he didn’t smell heavenly? Or maybe he wasn’t projecting his intense, undying devotion to her? Shame on him. I will admit, during the time when I was wrapped up in that series I found myself giving my husband the stink-eye and thinking, “Edward would never treat Bella that way.” Well, yes, because Edward isn’t real.
Ah, the power of books. So who’s really at fault here? The author who writes a gorgeous fictional character that makes readers swoon? The parent who hasn’t taught their child to understand the realities of real-life relationships? Or could it simply be a matter of the reader’s life experience and maturity?
In books, just as in “real” life, we love passionately, we disagree, we get annoyed, we question our initial feelings, and we make hard decisions about whether to stick together or not. But when lovebirds in books argue it’s not so ugly and painful. Well, yes, because it isn’t real.
Readers escape into books momentarily, knowing we will eventually have to return to reality. We do know that, right? That life is hard and nobody is perfect? Because I have come across many negative comments concerning Young Adult literature, especially in the paranormal and fantasy genres, in which readers are disgusted by “too-perfect” lead characters.
What do YOU think? Are YA readers being turned into unrealistic mush brains?
Happy Valentine’s Day, YAtopians. If you are blessed enough to be in a relationship this holiday, I hope you’ll take the time to set down your beloved book and snuggle the warm body of the imperfect person in your life. They may not have superhuman powers or the looks of an avenging angel, but unlike fictional characters, your partner can put an actual kiss on your lips. Enjoy it. XOXO

Thursday, February 10, 2011

YAtopia Blog Invasion: Guest Author Shirley Marr & Book Giveaway

Hi my name is Shirley Marr and this should be YAtopia Contributor Sharon’s post, but I am hijacking it today, muahaha! I’ve snuck in wearing a disguise and locked Sharon in the YAtopia basement. See, I won an auction on Authors For Queensland to raise funds for the Flood Appeal, allowing me the privilege of doing a guest post. So who am I? I’m an author of YA fiction. My debut novel is Fury, which came out in May 2010 and is published by black dog books. Make sure you stick around till the end cos I’ll be giving away a signed copy of my novel – and it’s open to international readers. Horrah!

So what can I say about myself, do I have any interesting stories hmmm? Actually why don’t I share my publication story, I hope you find it inspirational.

Flashback to 2009. This is future-me asking me-from-two-years ago these questions: What does querying a novel mean? No idea. What is a slushpile? I don’t know. What is an agent? Don’t know either… hang on, isn’t that something Hollywood stars have? As you can tell, I didn’t know much about the publishing industry. All I knew was that I loved writing and I’d been writing, like, forever.

My plan was this: write something I think is decent. Send it to a publisher I like the sound of and then get published. I considered myself an “okay” writer. This was going to be easy! I was working on a manuscript that through a long-convoluted-story (I’ll save that for another day) turned out to be YA, even though I was completely unaware that YA was this massive, super-popular lucrative market. I mean, I had read all the Harry Potters, but apart from that I kinda didn’t read books that were published beyond like… 1970…

So you’re thinking, okay, Shirley is delusional, this is going to end in disaster. I printed out the first three chapters of my manuscript (yes, I printed them, that’s probably extremely old school) and I sent it off.

Effectively I was sending it off to a slush pile without even knowing what one was. A few weeks passed and I got an email from Editor Melissa Keil from black dog books expressing interest. I was virtually thrown head first into editing, re-editing and even more re-re-editing and in less than I year had given birth to a shiny novel I was actually holding in my hand going “Oh my… I think I’m an author!”

So if you are a writer reading this and you really, really want to get published and maybe you want to give up – don’t – because in my naivety (which I later discovered was a good thing) I learnt…

  1. You don’t have to write in a particular genre or a certain type of story just because it’s popular.
  2. You don’t have to be represented by a flashy agent (or a crappy agent for that matter).
  3. You don’t have to read a billion books or blogs telling you how to write.

Just write. Don’t overthink it. Because if it really is good, someone will see it and it will get published. Think of your talent and what you can offer readers rather than what the industry can offer you if you pander to them. That’s how authors break new ground and new moulds get created.

Okay – we’ve reached the end of my post, so it’s book giveaway time! You can check out the end product of my journey for yourself. Fury is my debut novel and it’s written from the point of view of 16-year-old Eliza Boans who is sitting in a police station making a confession. Her opening line is: “My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer”. She’s an anti-hero, she’s mean and snarky, but dig a little deeper and she might just be loveable. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s dramatic and I hope it makes you cry too.

I’m going to give away a shiny signed copy, posted anywhere in the world, if you can tell me why you want to win a copy and leave it as a comment below. The answer I like the best wins! Enter way! You have until Saturday 20th February to enter.

To find out more about me and my novel Fury, visit:
My Blog: Life on Marrs

Thanks everyone one! Sharon will be released for her regular Thursday postings in two weeks.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

First Kiss

In case y'all didn't notice yesterday on Kelley's post, the YAtopians will be talking about Love & Lit over the next few days, in honor of one of my favorite holidays: Valentine's Day. (I realize this is a rather unpopular stance among smart single girls, but I make my case for the day on my personal blog today.)

It happened to me when I was eleven years old. I was sitting on the couch in the downstairs area of the house we rented on Primrose Avenue in Long Key. His name was Nick, he was a little older than me and his house was much nicer than mine. We had just finished playing a neighborhood-wide game of hide and seek, like we did pretty much almost every night. He leaned toward me and I closed my eyes, my heart beating so fast I was actually afraid he might hear it.

My first kiss.

For days afterward it defined me; it was all I could think about. From the outside looking in, there was nothing special or out-of-the-ordinary about it, but you couldn't have convinced me of that at the time.

For me, that's part of the charm of writing Young Adult literature. Instead of recounting the events that made your character who he/she is, the reader gets to experience these events first-hand. And there is nothing like a first kiss to define a person.

I don't how many of you were My So Called Life fans back in the day, but there is so much about teen fiction that show did right. This is the first time Angela and Jordan ever kissed:

But if you ask any fan of the show? They'll remember this, which is technically their second kiss:

These two scenes are incredibly similar, but manage to tell two entirely different stories in the space of three minutes.

Luc and Frannie's first kiss in Personal Demons (150 pages in!!) made my face flush with heat. Katniss's first kiss in The Hunger Games made me want to cry and scream and throw things (in a good way - if that makes sense?). The entire plot of The DUFF was set in to motion with Bianca and Wesley's first kiss. And I willed Max and Fang to kiss so hard that I thought my head might explode before it ever actually happened.

In contrast, there have been first kiss scenes that have totally killed the romance of the novel for me. I found myself rooting against the two MCs' relationship more than rooting for them to succeed. Sometimes it's due to the awkwardness the author obviously felt in writing the scene leaking through. Other times it's because of the crudeness of the narrator when he (usually a he, in this case) describes the kiss. And still other times it just doesn't feel right, though I couldn't tell you why.

In teen lit, the first kiss can make or break a story. If it doesn't resonate with the reader, there's a good chance they'll just put the book down and walk away. But if it's done right? We can fall in love with the characters just as they're falling in love with each other.

What are some of your favorite first kiss scenes in YA lit?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Favorite YA Couples ~ And a Contest!

It's no big secret that I'm a total softy when it comes to romance. There's nothing I love more in a book than a solid, romantic, sweet romance. So, when some of the YAtopia authors mentioned doing something fun for Valentines Day, of course I was in!

That means for the next two weeks, you can count on the kind of posts I love! We're going to blog about boys, kisses, couples, any and everything related to LOVE!

To kick things off I'm going to talk about some of my favorite romances in YA. It was really hard for me to narrow it down, but I think I have a solid group of swoon-worthy romances to talk about.

Justin and Drea from Harmonic Feedback~ This was a really special romance, IMO. I love how Drea sees the world. In some eyes, she's "different" (she has a touch of Aspergers), but not to Justin. He liked her for who she was from the very start. He never wanted or expected her to be anything except who she was and he saw how special that person was. He was always there for her, took his time, went slow with her because he knew it was what she needed. Even when other's did, he never laughed at her (not in a mean way), never pointed out those little things about her that others consider strange. He SAW her, loved her, and it was incredible.

Because Justin is all kinds of sweet, a couple of my favorite scenes from Harmonic Feedback:
"She's kind of adorable, isn't she?" Naomi asked.
I focus on his tennis shoes. Dirt was caked around the rims, and one of his laces was coming loose.
"Yeah, she's kind of a lot of things." His vice was soft, like he meant it as a compliment. But a lot of things could mean, well, anything.
"You should double knot your laces." I pointed at his shoes.
Naomi giggled and plopped on my bed again, and Justin let out what sounded like a soft laugh. I look up at him hesitantly.
"I'll keep that in mind."


He folded his arms across his chest. "Okay, then, I'm asking. How do you feel about me?"
"It's hard to explain. You make me feel connected to the world in ways I've never felt connected before. Usually I hate it when people touch me, but with you--its comforting. Not in the same way as my mom."
"God, I hope not." He gave me a strange look before holding up his hands. "Sorry, go on."
"It's a warm feeling, and my stomach kind of tickles. And...why are you smiling?"
He moved from the wall and sat on the bed. Close, but not close enough to touch me. "You're describing actual sensations."
"You asked me how I felt."
"I know and its the most real and honest answer I've ever heard. That's why I'm smiling."


Adam and Mia from If I Stay~
I love this book. Everything in if felt so completely, real and raw. The flashbacks of their life made me giddy happy, and the pain after her accident is heartbreaking. It's amazing how I could actually feel how much Adam loved her even without the book being written in his POV. I can't explain what was so special about this romance, but it is one that will always stay with me! It's one of the most beautiful books I've ever read.

Alex and Brittany from Perfect Chemistry~
I almost didn't pick this book up. I wasn't sure a gang member falling in love with the "perfect" rich girl would be believable. Alex and Brittany touched my heart. I love how they started at complete odds, but something grew between them. Something real. It was sweet and a complete joy to watch them fall in love.

There are MANY more on my list (Edward and Bella. Yep, I just said that, lol. Tucker and Clara from Unearthly to name a few), but I'm pretty sure you don't want to read a ten page blog entry :) Instead...I thought you would all enjoy a contest! SO, I just need a few things from you. First, you must be a follower of YAtopia AND a follower on my personal blog HERE. If you'd like extra points, you can follow other YAtopia members blogs or Tweet or blog the contest. Please provide links.

Then, all you have to do is leave a comment and tell me one (or more) of your favorite YA couples. I also want to know why they're one of your favorites. I'll leave the contest open until the end of our Love and Lit extravaganza which is Saturday, February 20th. On Sunday the 21st, I'll post the winner who will get their choice of any paranormal or contemporary romance (value up to 15.00) from Barnes and Noble. So sorry, but I can only ship in the USA.

Enjoy and I'm looking for some new books to read. I can't wait to see what couples you mention. Hoping my to be bought list will grow!

Just finished Sea by Heidi R. Kling. Am in awe by the awesomeness that is this book.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Werewolves, Vampires, and Love! Oh, My!

Hey, everyone. So sorry for being late. The weather here has been quite cold and snowy, causing schools to close and whatnot, so I'm a bit thrown off. I hope you all are doing well, though, and staying safe and warm. :-)

Today I would like to discuss my genre: young adult paranormal romance. This is quite popular, isn't it? What with that little book called Twilight and all, haha. For me, there's nothing better than a love story that crosses the natural world and into the supernatural. It adds an extra thrill to it, something fantastical that captivates me. People say love overcomes all obstacles and I think that saying is illustrated beautifully in paranormal romance.

But as I mentioned earlier, this is a popular genre, one that is so huge Barnes and Noble made a new section for it in the teen department. To be honest, I'm nervous to break onto the scene and try to make a name for myself. The publishing world is competitive in general, but even more so within genres. Does this mean I'm going to stop writing paranormal romance? Nope. Not a chance. It's a genre I love and want to continue trying my hand at. The genre is always growing and changing, and so am I as a writer, so why not grow together? If anything, the competition is going to push me harder to write better stories. It's going to be tough, as is writing in general, but all the hard work will be worth it in the end. It already has paid off. :-D

So, my fellow writers and readers, what are trends in paranormal romance are you growing tired of? What are things you'd like to see more of? Writers, do you think it's hard to compete in this market?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interview & Giveaway with Courtney Allison Moulton!

**Please note this interview was originally posted over at my blog Beyond Words**

As you may have heard, there's a new author in town, and she's AH-MAZING. Her debut ANGELFIRE is due out on the 15th February. So without further ado, I introduce....Courtney!!!
1) For everyone who doesn't know who you are, describe yourself in 100 words or less.

Author, equestrian, photographer, and My Little Pony collector. I talk about horses and Pokemon way too much.

2) And in case people have been living under a rock, give us a brief introduction to your debut novel 'ANGELFIRE' due out soon.

ANGELFIRE is about a seventeen-year-old girl named Ellie who is the reincarnation of an ageless warrior and the only one able to wield angelfire and protect human beings against the reapers, monstrous creatures who devour souls and send them to Hell to rebuild Lucifer’s army of the damned. She doesn’t remember her past lives or understand exactly what she is, but her soul remembers one thing: her Guardian and sworn protector, Will, who has secretly fallen in love with her over five centuries of watching her live and die in battle. As Ellie uncovers the terrifying secrets of her previous lives and of Will’s mysterious past, a powerful reaper has discovered a weapon which may be able to destroy her immortal soul forever, ending her reincarnation cycle and unleashing Hell upon Earth.

3) What made you decide to be a writer?

I’ve always loved telling stories, especially stories to scare people, even before I learned how to read and write. One of my earliest “stories” was one I told to my first grade teacher about how I used to have a sister, but she was eaten by rats in the attic. I don’t think my teacher believed me. In the third grade, I discovered the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine and that’s when I decided I wanted to be him when I grew up. I don’t think I ever wrote a story that wasn’t scary, whether it was a murder mystery in the fifth grade or my first novel-length book about vampires when I was sixteen. Writing really wasn’t something I ever just decided to do. It was something I just did.

4) What was your journey like to publishment?

When I got serious about being published in 2008, I queried the book that I wrote in high school. I had a few close calls, including an amazing phone call with my now-agent Elizabeth Jote, who told me to query her again if I wrote another book. So I wrote another book, ANGELFIRE, and Liz signed me. That summer, after doing round after round of revisions for her, I learned how to write a book. One year to the day of finishing the first draft of ANGELFIRE, Liz called to tell me an editor was preparing to make an offer. The next day, we accepted a pre-empt and it was the most amazing day of my life.

5) If you had a choice between reading something new or an old classic, which would you choose and why?

This depends on how classic of a classic we’re talking about. I am a history nerd and I love the Greek classics and poetry, but I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of Steinbeck and I didn’t really enjoy To Kill A Mockingbird. Though, I think I was just bitter after learning Boo Radley wasn’t really a ghost. If the choice were between something modern and a classic story from thousands of years ago, I would pick the classic because that story would be about someone from a time and a culture I could learn something about.

6) It's refreshing to read about a YA girl who can kick some serious butt. What made you decide to go down the route of having a super strong female as opposed to being the damsel in distress?

I have always written about strong female characters, inside and out. I love breaking the mold of male dominance and putting characters on equal ground. However, I think real people are both strong and weak in different ways, and characters need to grow into their strengths and out of their weaknesses. Ellie from ANGELFIRE is very physically powerful, but she also has a strong heart, even when she doubts herself or might be afraid of her enemies. Everyone has to be saved sometimes, even reincarnated girls who slice and dice monsters with fire swords.

7) Does Ellie share any of the same traits as you? How hard was it to create her character?

This is a funny question, because everyone who knows me very well and has read ANGELFIRE has commented to me—no joke—about how much of myself is in Ellie. She and her friends talk like my friends and I talk do. Ellie’s personality was very easy to write and her voice was in my head from the instant I began writing this book. I knew I wanted her to be a badass, but a sometimes silly, snarky girl at the same time.

8) You have a lot of fight scenes in your novel. How did you research into fight moves? And what was it like creating these scenes?

I watch a lot of action/scifi movies and a lot of combat videos on Youtube—not personal experience, if you’re wondering. My characters use a lot of moves I’ve picked up through watching various martial arts disciplines, but they have many of their own signature moves as well. They each have a bit of their own style, a way of fighting that works best for them and whatever situation they’re in. Writing these scenes are sometimes a blast and very easy, but sometimes challenging. I try hard to be inventive and to make each combat scene different from any that I’ve written before it, but also to make them clearly cinematic enough so that a reader can visualize in their heads and not get confused. After all, this is a book, not a movie, and the rules are different here.

9) In Angelfire, Ellie has a social life that she's trying hard to upkeep. Her world isn't all about Will and reaping. Was this a conscious decision to give her something outside of a romance and destiny to focus on? Were her friends something you always intended to play a big part in her life?

I was determined to make Ellie very “human” in this violent, supernatural world she is forced to navigate. She loves parties and going out with her friends, and Will, as her Guardian and protector, dutifully tags along, even though he doesn’t quite know how to function as a normal person. As awkward and funny as it is for them, it keeps them both sane and happy. It gives them down time in between the action, though it gets harder and harder for Ellie to be a warrior and a normal high school senior at the same time, trying to keep her duties a secret from her friends and family.

10) Though I know you're currently working on the next books in the Angelfire series, is there anything else you're planning on writing? Or are you just focusing on the one thing for now?

I have tons and tons of ideas for books and I’d love to be able to write them all one day. For now, I’m trying to stick with the Angelfire trilogy until I have the third book (Hymn to the Fallen) written, and then I’ll be able to concentrate on something different. While I’m currently editing the second book (Wings of the Wicked), I’m picking at other projects and dreaming of finishing them one day. It’s hard to focus on more than one series at a time, so I don’t know how a lot of these authors do it. When I am in one world for a series, I am in that world and it’s very difficult for me to switch character brains, especially if the project is something fresh and new and unfamiliar. So, I’ll just avoid that grief and work on one project at a time. What’s the rush, right?

11) What advice would you give to querying authors?

My best advice is to find an amazing reader or critique partner who will be honest with you and your writing. If they say something is good, ask them how to make it great. Nothing is more valuable to a writer than a second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes. They will see things you’re so used to looking at that you see nothing at all, and the difference in your writing and story-telling skill will be astronomical.

Quick fire questions:

Favourite chocolate bar? Anything solid milk chocolate only.

Fast Food or Sit Down Restaurant? I try not to eat fast food if I can help it, so sit down restaurant.

Coke or 7Up? Neither. I hate soda and will avoid it if possible. I drink tea and water!

Bad boy or good boy? How about a Good Guy with a Badass Edge? (aka Will from Angelfire lol)

Favourite flavour chewing gum? I don’t really like gum (can you tell I’m a picky eater?)

Thanks again for the interview Courtney. To find out more about Courtney, visit her page here.
Here is where you guys come in. I am giving away a pre-order of Angelfire to one lucky reader so long as Book Depository delivers to your country and all you have to do to enter is be a follower of YAtopia. How simple is that?!
Of course, you can gain some extra entries. Spread the word on twitter or on your blog for one extra entry. And also for each one of our personal blogs you follow, you can an extra entry that way too (links can be found on the Contributor page).
Added 5th Feb: Courtney has so gracefully offered to give away some swag to the runner up. So now there are TWO chances of winning something! Same rules as above apply and both winners will be chosen through a random number generator.

Good luck people! Giveaway ends 17th Feb. So get entering in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Tuesday Twaddle with Leigh.

It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s time for The Tuesday Twaddle. Hooray!  For those uninitiated this is where I basically talk complete and utter nonsense on all things random, well random in the Land of Leigh.
And what’s going on in the Land of Leigh? Amazing things I tell you, amazing things.   I’m sure you’re well sick of hearing about the Land of Leigh so I won’t harp on about it.  But what I will harp on about is something a little close to my heart.  The hardback, trade paperback, and Ereader Download debate.
I've mulled over this very question myself, and have been doing some researching on the internet to find out what the to-do' is all about.
Hardback is the 'old fashioned' publishers bread and butter.  The publisher and the writer make more per book sold in hardback addition.  But, and there is always a but, hardback is falling out of favor, and quite rapidly.
 Many see the Hardback as too expensive.  A hardback comes out at approx.  18.99, whereas the humble paperback comes out at approx. 8.99 - same book, same story but $10 cheaper.  The truth of the matter is that most people (myself included) hold off for the paper back to buy the book, as hardback is too expensive, clunky, and heavy.
 As far as I can see it it's a snobbery thing.  Authors like to see their book in hardback, but things are changing.  In the UK and Australia, paperback is becoming more and more the norm for first editions and this has some major positives.  Firstly, you are going to sell a hell of a lot more books.  You are going to reach a far wider audience and be sold in major chains other than bookstores that specialize in high-end lit.  I was recently asked what format I would want my first book going out in. Firstly, let me say, I don’t get a choice.  The publisher decides, but if I had to answer my brain would say ‘first edition trade paperback’ and my heart would say ‘are you crazy, hardback, hardback, hardback’.  I think every author would like the kudos of hardback, but sometimes that’s just not a realistic goal.  However, with Trade paperback you get the kudos of the trade (with some of the perks) but the exposure and mass market appeal of the paperback price.  Yes, I know as an author you're going to make less on the sales, but really who cares?  At this stage it's all about establishing yourself as an author, getting a loyal following and most importantly keeping your reading public happy with recession proof pricing.
 There's also the big deal about ereaders! These make the hardback practically obsolete!  You're only going to pay a set price for a book on ipad, nook, or kindle regardless of what format the paper edition was published in, and that's key - and the future!
There is definitely a market for the Hardback, there are books that I Iove so much I demand to have them in hardback, but to me, it makes more sense to have the hardback come out as a second edition, after the book has sold well in ‘trade’, reached its full market potential, and found an army of followers who will want to spend the extra to get a hardback copy.
These are just my personal opinions, and I know the publishers are ultimately the ones that make the decisions on what format each book is published in, but it is certainly food for thought.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue, as it is something very close to my heart at the moment.
So tell me, what do you think is the perfect printing format and why?