an ode to the precious and some gemma doyle fangirling

my latest book haul!

my latest book haul!

books are such magical things. we can open them and be transported to new worlds, new times, and new adventures. we can laugh and cry and shake our fists along with our favorite characters, and we can fall in love and have our hearts broken with them, too. my ya gothic horror is on submission right now, and i’m in the midst of researching and drafting out my latest project to keep from obsessively checking emails from my agent. i’m also binge-reading a bunch of books and loving every second of this part of work. here are a few titles from my recent book haul that i’ve been super excited about reading.

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY – Libba Bray

ETIQUETTE AND ESPIONAGE – Gail Carriger

A COLD LEGACY – Megan Shepherd

RED QUEEN -Victoria Aveyard

omg the gemma doyle trilogy??? where has it been all my life. so. effing. good. i bought the other two books and am eagerly* awaiting their arrival. i cannot believe it’s taken me so long to get into them.

what debut are you most looking forward to? and what are some of your favorite creepy books? i need to add some more titles to my (ever) growing list!

*by eagerly awaiting i mean pacing back and forth, cursing the mail for being late, and breaking out into a cold, i-NEED-it-now sweat. the next step will be rocking in the corner and smacking my gums until the precious arrives. not pretty.

xx

YA Author of FERAL – Holly Schindler – Talks Cats, Creepiness, and Spills Writing Secrets

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Bella getting possessive of FERAL.

As promised in yesterday’s review, I’ve got a nice little treat for you today… Please help me (and Bella) warmly welcome YA Author, Holly Schindler, to our little corner of the interwebs with her fun interview!

Were there times when you were writing FERAL that you found yourself afraid of unexpected noises, or checking over your shoulder for stray cats or creatures lurking near the edge of the woods?

It’s funny—I didn’t.  But my experience with FERAL is quite different than my readers’.  Anyone who picks up the book dives straight into full-blown creepiness (think jumping cannonball style into an ice-cold swimming pool).  For me, the creepiness was more gradual (think edging your way into chilly water slowly, bit by bit).

The book actually started out as an MG mystery, believe it or not.  (When I started revising, the book started getting darker and drifting away from MG—until I felt sure it actually needed to be a YA.)  The MG version was about a girl looking into a cold case—that cold case eventually turned into the far more recent death of Serena Sims as it appears in FERAL.  The death always took place at school, and it always revolved around a “cheating” clue (though “cheating” took on a different meaning when it became YA), and the manner of Serena’s death was always the same.

Once I knew I was going to bump the book up to YA, my main character didn’t work.  (Bumping a book into a different age group SOUNDS simple enough—but oh, boy!  It results in a complete and total overhaul.  Trust me.)  So I had to brainstorm a new seventeen-year-old protagonist.  That’s when I discovered that Claire was the victim of a gang beating—that discovery made me realize the theme would be recovering from violence, and that the genre would be psychological thriller instead of straight mystery (or even horror, as I’d suspected it might be as I started to revise).

I was actually continuing to darken the details all the way through the book’s development once it was acquired at HarperCollins…

I do have a loose idea for a straight teen horror novel, and it’ll be interesting to see how it feels to do the cannonball dive into dark, creepy material.

I am a shameless cat lady and I was genuinely spooked by my little mews, purring contentedly beside me while I read. Where did the idea of these menacing, are-they-or-are-they-not-supernaturally-evil-felines come from?

I’m actually an animal person myself.  I’ve only spent three of my 37 years without an animal of some sort.  I grew up with two cats I loved to pieces—Tuffy, as her name suggests, was born feral.  The creepy use of cats in the book has nothing to do with what I think of cats in general.  I’d love to have another—right now, I’ve got the world’s most spoiled Pekingese.  He’s definitely an only child.  I’m not exactly sure what he’d do if I brought another animal into the house, but my suspicion is that carnage would ensue.

When the book was an MG, I knew I wanted the victim’s corpse in the cold case to be torn apart by Missouri wildlife.  In the original draft, it simply kept the police from accurately pinpointing the manner of death (as it also does in the final version).

Once I started to move the book toward YA (and the murder became recent rather than a cold case), I knew I wanted the cats to play a bigger role.  So much of Peculiar is a mirror-image of the Chicago, reminding Claire of the horrific beating—those cats are a kind of gang, too, just like the human gang that trailed Claire in Chicago.  And Sweet Pea specifically also becomes the vehicle to depict how Claire feels about herself post-beating.

The atmosphere was so beautifully handled and consistent throughout the entire book. You really transported the reader to this small Missouri town and brought it to life, just as if it were a movie unfolding on the big screen. Did you have any audio or visual aides you used while creating the haunted atmosphere of Peculiar, Missouri?

I appreciate that—I think, when you’re writing something that’s a bit more dramatic, plays out scenically rather than internally, hearing that your book unfolding like a movie is one of the best compliments you can receive!

Mostly, I was using my own surroundings.  I’m a lifelong Missouri gal, and I live in Springfield, which is an even mix of urban and rural.  It’s a medium-sized city (third largest in the state) with three universities; I live in a city-style neighborhood, but the end of my neighborhood is marked by a field surrounded with barbed wire.  Barns, hay bales, horses, cows—you can see all that, less than two minutes from my house.

My hometown also got really hammered by a couple of ice storms—one in ’07 and one in ’08.  Those storms made a big impact on me—I’ll never forget the frightening sounds of tree limbs snapping and transformers sparking and not knowing if or when the power would get back on…

I mentioned before that FERAL is a psychological thriller.  It really follows so many classic conventions of the genre: Hitchcockian pace, attention to the main character’s psyche—even those feral cats are a nod to Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.  Psychological thrillers also frequently use water as a metaphor for the subconscious (the shower scene in PSYCHO, much of WHAT LIES BENEATH).  The ice storm is also making use of the water metaphor—here, it symbolizes Claire’s frozen inner state, her inability to move on after a violent attack.

Who were some of your favorite authors growing up, and did any of their stories or styles help you with the crafting of this novel?

I mostly read contemporary realism.  I’m a child of the ‘80s, so you can picture me in a perm and giant glasses, combing the library for Judy Blume books.  I stumbled on a Christopher Pike book in junior high—FALL INTO DARKNESS—and I fell in love.  I’d read a few mysteries before, of course, but this was the first adventure-driven book I’d read.  There was something so compelling about it…I wound up reading every Pike book I could get my hands on after that.  It made a big impact, that’s for sure.

In the spirit of Halloween, and the scary thrill-ride that is FERAL, what’s something that terrifies you now? Or even something that scared you as a kid?

Heights.  I’m terrible with heights.  Probably because my vision absolutely stinks—20/700.  Yeah.  I know.  The silliest thing that makes my skin crawl?  Slugs.  Slugs drive me crazy.

What’s a fun fact that no one knows about FERAL?

It’s kind of a fun fact about me as a writer…If I want to completely turn off my inner critic, I take my glasses off while I draft.  My eyesight’s so crummy, I can’t see the screen.  If I can’t see the screen, I can’t get nitpicky.  It’s cool when a “weakness” turns out to be a blessing in disguise, isn’t it?

Holly SchindlerHolly Schindler is the author of the critically acclaimed A BLUE SO DARK (Booklist starred review, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year silver medal recipient, IPPY Awards gold medal recipient) as well as PLAYING HURT (both YAs).

Her debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, also released in ’14, and became a favorite of teachers and librarians, who used the book as a read-aloud.  Kirkus Reviews called THE JUNCTION “…a heartwarming and uplifting story…[that] shines…with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve.”

FERAL is Schindler’s third YA and first psychological thriller.  Publishers Weekly gave FERAL a starred review, stating, “Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A BLUE SO DARK…This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking…This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees.”

Keep up with Holly online:

Twitter

Facebook

Goodreads

Website

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FERAL jacket copy:

The Lovely Bones meets Black Swan in this haunting psychological thriller with twists and turns that will make you question everything you think you know.

It’s too late for you. You’re dead. Those words continue to haunt Claire Cain months after she barely survived a brutal beating in Chicago. So when her father is offered a job in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out will offer her a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire feels an overwhelming sense of danger, and her fears are confirmed when she discovers the body of a popular high school student in the icy woods behind the school, surrounded by the town’s feral cats. While everyone is quick to say it was an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it, and vows to learn the truth about what happened.

But the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to realizing a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley….

Holly Schindler’s gripping story is filled with heart-stopping twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Interested in watching the book trailer? Check out the link by clicking H E R E.

Post Revisions Pizza – Homemade Recipe

Hello my lovely blog friends! I know it’s been a few months since I’ve stopped in and said hello, but it’s been quite a year. I was balls deep with my new writing project, trying to keep myself occupied while on submission, and doing a BUNCH of research. I’m finally putting the final touches on my manuscript and it’s one of my favorite projects EVER. Hopefully you’ll be hearing more about it when it goes on submission this fall.

To make up for my silence, I’m going to share a fun recipe with you that’s been in our family for years and years. After writing all day it’s nice to take a break and cook up something quick and tasty.

Since I have a Sicilian background, I’m going to share a fast pizza recipe with you. Now don’t be scared…it’s MUCH easier to make dough than you might think.

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First you’ll need the following ingredients to make the dough:

2 cups warm water

1 pkg dry yeast (active dry)

2 tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups unbleached flour

In a small bowl mix the dry yeast with the warm water, then let it sit aside.

In a large bowl add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. (You want all of your salt and sugar to be mixed evenly before you add the water/yeast).

Once you’ve done that, slowly add the water/yeast into the large bowl. I usually lightly move the mixture around with my hands to spread the water as far as possible without kneading it too much at first. After the water is mixed with the flour (as best as you can) start kneading the dough on a counter (make sure you sprinkle some flour on the surface to avoid the dough getting stuck prior to kneading it). It’s important to not over knead it, you basically just want your dough to be smooth at this point.

Divide the dough in half, making two round mounds (pictured below).

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Cover with a towel and let sit for about 30-40 minutes.

While your dough is rising, you can make some easy marinara sauce. (If you’re really fancy, you can make the sauce the night before and let it cook down longer.)

For the sauce you’ll need:

1 can of whole peeled tomatoes

1 medium can of Hunts sauce

2-3 cloves of garlic (based on taste preference)

1 pinch of salt

1 pinch of oregano

3 tablespoons of dried basil (or enough to cover the top of your sauce)

In a food processor, chop the garlic and tomatoes until smooth. Add the tomatoes and garlic to a sauce pan, then combine the rest of the ingredients and cook over a medium heat for as long as possible. (The longer you let it cook, the more it’ll cook down and become nice and thick for your pizza.)

While your sauce is finishing up you can prep your toppings to save some time. We like making mozzarella, goat cheese, and prosciutto pizza, but nothing beats a classic margherita pie. For that you’ll just need to slice some fresh mozzarella, or buy some that’s already pre-sliced.

When you’re happy with your sauce’s consistency, you can begin rolling your dough out. I normally just hand roll it by pulling and stretching it until it’s roughly the size of our pizza pan or stone. After you’ve rolled your dough out, sprinkle some more flour on your pizza stone or pan then place your dough on top of it.

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Add sauce to your dough. The trick is to not add too much, just a few spoonfuls – you still want to be able to see the dough in spots. This will help ensure your dough doesn’t get soggy in the middle.

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Then top with cheese and whatever else you like. For mine I sprinkled a little bit of Pecorino Romano over the top then added sliced mozzarella. Pictured below:

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Stick it in a preheated oven (I set mine for 425) and let it cook for about 15 minutes. You may want to check yours around the 10 minute mark, depending on how hot your oven gets. The pizza is done when the crust is a nice golden brown.

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Slice and enjoy!

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Quick Dinner Tip: If you make your sauce the night before (or even defrost frozen sauce you’ve saved from previous meals), then this dinner is extra easy and fast. You can also pre-make your dough and keep it wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge the night before. Then you’ll just have to set the dough out for a few minutes to get room temperature and roll it out. Total time for that would only be about 30 minutes for cooking and prep.

SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 1.28.55 PMWhy, hello there lovely blog friends. It’s been…well…it’s been a SHAMEFULLY long time. Between moving a thousand miles, unpacking, decorating, writing books, revising books, going through the submission process, reading/critting/and beta’ing friends books, researching the ever loving heck out of my new book, and…excuses, excuses. I know. Hope you’re all doing exquisitely on this lovely spring day. Did you do something different with your hair? It looks GOOD. How the heck have you been, huh?

So, one of my very best pals has something awesome going on, and it’s big enough to yank me out of my blog silence. Bethany Crandell’s debut SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS is hitting shelves on April 1st, and I’m not foolin’, it’s hands down one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Even if Bethany wasn’t so near and dear to my 90s music-loving heart, I’d be shouting from the proverbial rooftops for you to all add it to your TBR piles and buy it at your local bookstore immediately. Bethany is an amazing talent. She creates these characters that are SO believable, it’s crazy. If you’re in the market to laugh until you cry, or if you’re a writer and want to see how a master creates characters and emotions, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. Her cover is awesome, the prose is awesome, and Bethany is even more awesome than that.

Oh! But you know what’s even MOAR awesome??? There this BIG FANCY GIVEAWAY going on at the swoony boys podcast. You can win lots of great summertime swag including a copy of SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS! HUZZAH! Go enter. It takes two seconds and you could get free stuff. Pretty. Darn. Awesome.

Here’s the blurb for SUMMER ON THE SHORT BUS:

Spoiled, Versace-clad Cricket Montgomery has seventeen years of pampering under her belt. So when her father decides to ship her off to a summer camp for disabled teens to help her learn some accountability, Cricket resigns herself to three weeks of handicapped hell.

Her sentence takes a bearable turn as she discovers the humor and likeability of the campers and grows close to fellow counselors. Now, if she can just convince a certain Zac Efron look-alike with amazing blue eyes that she finally realizes there’s life after Gucci, this summer could turn out to be the best she’s ever had.

Summer on the Short Bus is a very non-P.C., contemporary YA with a lot of attitude, tons of laughs, and a little life lesson along the way.

 

Query Critique

Original Query:

Dear (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it.

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain on the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world, they have no choice but to work together, despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And when his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories.

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

The Critique:

Dear Ms. (Agent),

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey has been accused of a murder he didn’t commit. And is going to hang for it. (How old is he? We find out it’s YA at the end, but you want to ground the reader (agent) in what kind of book you’ve written up-front. That can be fixed easily by adding: Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old…etc. Also! You can tighten this and make it more present by moving a few words around. Ex: Seventeen-year-old small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.)

With a rope squeezed tightly around his neck, Tristan knows it’s the end, but just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky. It smashes the gallows, freeing the thief. (This can also be condensed a bit for more impact. It’s a wordy way of continuing to talk about Tristan’s hanging when the reader should be thrust into the action/conflict faster. So far we’ve read a lot about the stuff that happens BEFORE the action. Since most of the conflict occurs after this, flesh that out more.) Eager to cheat death, Tristan attempts his escape in the midst of the chaos, but instead of freedom, he is accidentally sucked into another dimension.

After smashing into the grassy plain (this is unnecessary) On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped in a foreign world (since they were sucked through a portal, the “foreign world” part is assumed. You can cut this extra info so you have more wordage to add to the conflict and obstacles) they have no choice but to work together (by saying “they are forced to work together” it conveys the same message and chops extraneous words), despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desperately desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. And When his henchman fails to capture the girl, the man instead steals her memories. (Who steals her memories? The henchman or the evil god? It’s a little unclear. A fast way to fix that is like this: When a henchman fails to capture the girl, he steals her memories instead. Or better yet, do we need to know the henchman steals her memories? It might be best to remove that element completely to avoid character soup.)

Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future suddenly falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the god(dess) of Earth. (What conflict does that pose for the evil god? We need a little something here about why the evil god wants her and what the consequence will be if he succeeds. What are the stakes or choices? Will capturing her soul destroy their world?)

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It is the first novel in a planned trilogy. (Good ending. One minor tweak; I would say that it’s a stand alone with series potential.)

Thank you for your time and consideration. (Perfect!)

Your Name

Phone Number

Email

Other Contact Info/Website/Etc.

A couple of nitpick-y things: Be aware of using too many words that end in “ly”, there are quite a few that are “telling” instead of showing. I.e. Tightly, accidentally, desperately, suddenly, reluctantly, etc. It’s okay to use some – just know that for a short blurb they start to stand out when they aren’t necessary.

The Aftermath:

Dear Ms. Agent,

Small-time thief, big-time troublemaker, seventeen-year-old Tristan Storey, is about to hang for a murder he didn’t commit.

Just as his consciousness flickers, lightning tears down from the sky, smashing the gallows and freeing him. While attempting escape in the midst of the chaos, he’s accidentally sucked into another dimension.

On the other side of the portal, Tristan realizes someone else was pulled through: Vespa, the daughter of the man he “murdered.” Trapped, they are forced to work together despite Vespa’s stubbornness and Tristan’s habit of saying the wrong thing—all the time.

This new world is ruled by an evil god who desires the eternal soul dwelling within Vespa. When his plan of capturing the girl fails, he steals her memories instead. Robbed of her past, Vespa’s future falls in the hands of Tristan who reluctantly embarks on a journey to recover her memories. Memories which hold the truth about Vespa and her true mother: the goddess of Earth.

The Eldritch Tales is YA fantasy, complete at 84,000 words and was a finalist in Critique My Novel‘s 2012 annual writing competition. It’s a stand alone with series potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Your Name

Okay…so with this condensed version, you now have extra word space to flesh out the conflict and choices the characters face once they are in the other world MORE. Don’t be afraid to lay the stakes out there for the agent. 

Thanks so much for sharing your query and for letting me dig my little fingers in. Your book sounds like a really fun read, and the query has a great voice!

Do you know how incredible you are?

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s something I firmly believe in. If you are querying, or are out on submission, or doing anything where you’re receiving rejections, celebrate them. Want to know why? You are actively DOING something. You decided to go for your dreams, you didn’t just talk about it – you sat down and wrote and revised and then you bravely put yourself out there. You are incredible!

Seriously, you are. How many people do you know that are brave enough to wear their heart so openly on their sleeves?

I wrote five books and queried them for over two years, before I signed with my agent on my SIXTH novel. As you can imagine, I racked up A LOT of rejections. Some were form letters, others were personalized, and a decent amount were encouraging enough for me to keep going.

Sure there are days where you feel like giving up, or question your sanity, but that stuff will pass. Really. It will.

If you’re feeling particularly down, allow yourself a day or two to regroup. Do something – ANYTHING – other than writing or querying. Go for a walk. Make a fancy dessert. Rent a bunch of movies and laugh until you cry. Watch a baseball game. But whatever you do, stay away from your computer.

Do not check your email. 

Do not touch your project for 24 solid hours. 

Read that book you keep putting off.

Meditate. 

By the end of the day you’ll start to feel something. You know what that is? It’s hope blossoming in the pit of your stomach. That’s also passion for your work. An entire day away from it is hard. You miss it. How can you even think of giving it up now, after you’ve come so far?

Now take that query letter back out and see what you can do to improve it. Do the same with your manuscript. Then get back out there and try all over again.

You know why I used to celebrate my rejections? Because I always believed that better things were in store for me. I just couldn’t always see it at the time, but I had faith it would all work out. I am a firm believer in the saying, when one door closes a better one opens.

Keep knocking and your door will open.

What’s even more impressive is this: you are learning so much about yourself. Look at how strong you are. You fell down, but you got back up again. I bet you didn’t know you had that kind of inner strength before.

Thank you for being incredible.