Monday, December 22, 2014

Auld Lang Syne

Well you guys, somehow another year has just about passed us by! Time to see how I did on my To-Do list for 2014:

  • I'm turning 30 in twenty-five days. That sounds really old. 0_o (Obviously this isn't a goal, just an inevitable event.)
  • Whale and the Tree revision. Hoping to be finished circa April, although this draft will need at least another pass after that. Really proud of my changes so far! I think it's already a much stronger manuscript.
  • Another novel. Possibly another revision, possibly a reworking of last year's short story idea, possibly something completely new. We'll see!
  • I have a ton of books I want to read, including but not limited to: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Sorrow's Knot, The Bitter Kingdom, Shadow and Bone, The Fault in Our Stars, Unthinkable, The Name of the Wind, The Night Circus, Reflections (Diana Wynne Jones on writing), and whatever else has yet to tickle my fancy! (Book suggestions always welcome!)

Okay, so this is what I accomplished:

  • I turned 30. It was kind of traumatizing, but made better by my awesome husband taking me up in a hot air balloon and a delish Paradise Bakery cookie cake. :-)
  • I ROCKED that Whale and the Tree revision like nobody's business, though I didn't actually finish until August. Props to my awesome critique partner Jen Fulmer for giving me the push and inspiration to finish!
  • I revised a different book in March/April (Seer's Song).
  • I wrote another novel (that makes Novel No. 7!)! Yahoooooooo!! I finished the first draft of Echo North a little over a week ago (which, incidentally, was a reworking of the aforementioned short story.)
  • I read tons of books, though missed a few on my list (most notably The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Bitter Kingdom, and The Night Circus. Maybe next year!!)
Stay tuned for a 2015 To-Do List!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and


Favorite Reads of 2014!

Here, for your general perusing, is a spattering of reviews for some of the books I read and loved over the past year, complete with if-this-book-was-a-movie ratings (not all books listed here were published in 2014, it's just when I read them).

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow
I read and adored Erin Bow's Plain Kate a few years ago, and one of my first reads this year was Sorrow's Knot. This book is PHENOMENAL. It's exquisite and fresh and beautifully, beautifully written. It's filled with poignant, well-drawn characters and a wonderfully realized world. It's eerie and sad and lovely and terrible. It will make you cry. It will creep you out. It will make your heart beat faster. It will make you FEEL ALL THE THINGS. Just sit down with a cup of tea and a box of kleenex and read it NOW.
If this book was a movie I'd rate it: PG-13, mostly for sadness and creepiness (I know they don't rate movies for things like that, but whatevs, I do!)

 Ultraviolet and Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson
Ultraviolet begins with the instantly-intriguing line: "Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. This is not her story. Unless you count the part where I killed her." A completely fascinating book, the story starts in a mental hospital, where Alison is trying to come to grips with how and why Tori disintegrated before her eyes. Everyone thinks she's a murderer, and crazy. Hence the mental hospital. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll stop my review there. Suffice it to say, this is the kind of book that begins one place, and takes you somewhere amazingly wonderful that you were not at all expecting by the end. Intriguing and lovely and filled with well-drawn, unique characters. Its companion novel, Quicksilver, is also quite good, but I can't say a thing about it without ruining Ultraviolet. In any case, do yourself a favor and go read these books NOW.
If this book was a movie I'd rate it: PG-13, for some disturbing subject matter.

Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardou
I gotta say it was super smart of me to wait until all three books were out before starting this series! I adored Shadow and Bone—the story was intriguing and well-written, and I thought it had ABSOLUTELY PERFECT PACING. Seriously, it left me in awe. I LOVED the third-person prologues/epilogues in all three books (the one at the end of Ruin and Rising had me in tears!!). I thought both Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising were a liiiiiiitle slow in the beginning, but once they picked up, BOY DID THEY PICK UP. You should have heard the noises I was making in the last quarter of Ruin and Rising. Oh. My. Gosh. From GoodReads I've gathered that the ending to R&R was kind of divisive. Myself, I thought it was COMPLETELY PERFECT, though you can bet your sweet patootie I was experiencing Extreme Trauma and ALL THE FEELINGS. I really enjoyed this series, and look forward to re-reading it. (I realize none of that is actually a review. Sorry. Just read the series, okay??)
If this book was a movie I'd rate it: PG-13, for violence.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
I adored this book. It read like a modern-day classic, was inventive and beautifully written, and was filled with endearing characters and amazingly-quotable sections. It follows the exploits of a plucky girl named September, who travels to Fairyland with the Green Wind and has lots of adventures, including meeting an adorable dragon who man-or-may-not be part Library.

If this book was a movie I'd rate it: G, and you'd better believe I'd be first in line to see it!!

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
I thought this was a really special, beautiful book, and liked it a lot better than The Fault in Our Stars, which I also read this year and kind of occupies a similar space in my mind (YA books about death, I guess). Gayle Foreman does a masterful job weaving in non-sequential flashback sequences into the main story (I've dubbed her the Flashback Queen), and her writing is beautiful. She really makes you feel things. I also enjoyed her refreshing portrayal of a loving, close-knit family, and thought she absolutely nailed the classical music aspects of the story. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's on my list.
If this book was a movie I'd rate it: PG-13 for strong language and some mild sexual content (I'd bet real money they cleaned up a lot of the language for the actual movie.)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor
I don't normally read angel/demon books, (generally I find the concept deeply annoying), but this one intrigued me—I got a mix of Howl's Moving Castle and The Bartimeus Trilogy vibes, and absolutely tore through the pages. The story and characters were fascinating, and I loved the world-building, the details, the magic system. I loved Brimstone, the teeth-collecting wish-giver, I loved the creepy-but-fascinating idea of revenants. I loved Karou's spunk and her friendship with Zuzana. I loved the idea of the star-crossed romance, and really enjoyed the flashback sequences, though the actual romance happened too fast for me. I needed a scene or two more of establishment before the OMG-I-love-you-more-than-breathing-I'm-gonna-risk-everything-for-you-because-you're-so-hot thing happened. It was just a little bit too much love-at-first-sight, and I needed more to make it believable.
Still, an enjoyable read overall (and that ENDING!!). I'm partway through the second book, and will let you know my thoughts by the end of the trilogy. :-) 
If this book was a movie I'd rate it: PG-13, for sexual references and content, and some language.

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkowski
I read a lot of awesome books this year. This one is my favorite. It felt like it was written specifically for me, and I already read it twice and I need more people to read it so I have someone to discuss it with and AHHHHHH THE SEQUEL DOESN'T COME OUT TILL MARCH!!!!! Ahem. Anyways, it's filled with intrigue and a slow burning romance and music and duels and rebellion and I JUST LOVE IT SO MUCH I CAN'T WRITE A PROPER REVIEW. Like, I've reached Queen's Thief series-level adoration with this book, which is awesome because it has sort of a similar Greco-Roman setting and feel.
But if I was really trying to properly review it, it would go something like this: Ten years ago, the Valorians conquered the Herrani peninsula, seized their houses and property, and enslaved the Herrani people. Kestrel is the Valorian general's daughter, used to a life of luxury, and expected to either enlist in the army or marry by her 18th birthday. Then one day Kestrel finds herself at a slave auction and purchases a young Herrani man on a whim. And they slowly build this tension-filled reluctant friendship, and I'm not saying any more than that because SPOILERS. (ha. You thought you were getting a proper review and I fooled you!!)
If this book was a movie I'd rate it: PG-13, for some violence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Novel Number Seven!

As many of my Twitter followers already know, I finished the first draft of my fairytale-retelling novel on Friday!!!!! I've lots of work to do to get it into any kind of a workable state, but it's so exciting to have the rough draft completed! This makes my SEVENTH fully-drafted novel, which is kind of amazingly great.

In any case, I just finished a read-through of the rough draft, and I think there's glimmers of a good novel in there. I'm going straight back to revision purgatory after the holidays, but for now it's time to let it simmer in the ole subconscious, get feedback from my critique partner, and do lots of brainstorming to figure out exactly where I want to go with it.

I clocked in at just under 66,000 words, which makes this the shortest novel I have ever written, though I'll probably be fleshing out scenes/characters during rewrites, so we'll see where the word count ends up.

It's also my first ever fairytale retelling, so that was an interesting experience! I'm not sure I hit all the right notes yet, but—again—it's just the first draft. It can only improve from here. Right? Right???

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 Update ~ The End is Not the End Quite Yet

Hello, all!

November passed us by in a blink, didn't it? Still trying to figure out what happened there. Mostly for the week and a half surrounding Thanksgiving, I was hanging out with my awesome family and eating ridiculous amounts of food. Ridiculous. Amounts. Of Food. Seriously.

BUT, you'll be happy to know I hit my 50K on the 20th!! I got too busy/distracted to make it to 60K, but I'm back at it now with only three and a half chapters left to write! And I think it's good that the pace will slow down a little, as I have a horrible tendency to rush endings in first drafts.

Anyways, here's some STATS:

Final NaNoWriMo Word Count: 51, 529
Chapters Completed: 18/22
Number of Times I Accidentally Slipped Back into Past Tense When Trying to Write Present: Already lost count.
Amount of Tea Drunk By Author: many, many cups.
Number of Thanksgiving Dinners Eaten: three.
Number of Pies Currently in Freezer Because They're Too Dangerous to Keep in the Fridge: three.
Sanity of Author: 75%

Friday, November 14, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 ~ Day 14 Update

Well, November—and NaNoWriMo—is half over! I only have one more week before my time is up. I'm definitely going to hit my personal goal of 60,000 words (if I don't get too lazy!), and I miiiiiight even make it to the end of the story, if I push. We shall see! Marching straight into the final third of the novel—everything's changing up now, including moving from past to present tense. Should be interesting!!


Day: 14
Word Count: 45,732
Chapters Completed: 16/22
Number of Times Author Deviated from Outline: at least 3
Number of Kisses Main Character Received: 2. :-)
Number of Heartbreaking Scenes: 1. :-(
Number of Times Author Just Wanted to Blow off Writing and Eat Cake: 7.
Sanity of Author: 74%

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 ~ Day 6 Update

Hi, all! I come to you from the marvelous and exhilarating land of First Drafts, where all the words count and you try not to worry about fixing things until later…

The novel is going well! Feeling extraordinarily sleepy today, but managed to eek out 3K anyways (it was a struggle!). But it's so great to be WRITING (not editing or revising or rewriting) again. Nothing like rough drafts to let you revel in the awesomeness of sheer creativity!

My biggest challenge with this novel so far, I think, is that I tried to write it as a short story last year, and I've been rewriting (from scratch) scenes that I remember liking pretty well in the short story, and it feels kind of weird. But LUCKILY, I've nearly reached the point in the novel that surpasses the short story, so hopefully it will go more smoothly from here. Obviously this thing is going to need editing (what rough draft doesn't??), but I think this first draft is at least approaching how I want the story to be, so that's good.

Anyhoo. Enough chit-chat (that was 185 words I just wrote—can I count them towards my novel? Just kidding), it's time for some STATS!

Day: 6
Word Count: 23,175
Cups of Tea Drunk by Author: Many
Cups of Tea Drunk by Characters: Even more.
Number of Characters in this Novel Named after Characters from Crime and Punishment: 1.
Has Author Managed to Write a Novel Without Mentioning Books and Pianos: Hahaha. No.
Number of Times Author Has Been Surprised Even With Her Detailed Outline: 2.
Number of Times Main Character Has Been Horribly Scarred: 2. One literally. One emotionally.
Sanity of Author: 80%.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tick tock, tick tock…

NaNoWriMo is almost here!!! I'm anxiously awaiting typing those first few words into my Scrivener document, I've updated my profile, and there's nothing left to do but watch those last hours tick away!

I'm planning on doing weekly or bi-weekly progress updates, so look out for those.

Ack! So excited!! Is it time yet???

Monday, October 27, 2014

October Updates

October sure has passed in a blur! In the last several weeks, my husband and I moved down the street, went on a lovely anniversary trip, and have been cleaning the old apartment so that we can officially relinquish the keys before the 31st.

We're mostly settled into the new place (which is so lovely!)—just the back bedroom/office to sort through now. Tragically, my writing desk didn't make the move… A few years ago we rescued it from a dumpster, and it's been slowly falling apart since then. It ended in an explosion of particle board and dust, alas. Hopefully a new one will take its place before the year is out!

The hubs got me a mandolin for our anniversary, and it's so awesome! I used to play violin, so the transition (at least note-wise) is fairly smooth. Just trying to build up callouses on my left hand so I can play for longer than twenty minutes at a time!!

Getting pumped for NaNoWriMo! Looking forward to Saturday so I can start writing—super glad I finished my outline back in September! I've firmly decided on the fairy-tale retelling/mashup, and have been composing the opening scene in my head for several weeks now. Should be fun!

Just like last year, though, I'm going to try and be finished by the 21st, when my sister and brother-in-law come into town for the holidays. I'm HOPING to have a complete first draft, but if that doesn't happen, at least 50K of a first draft. I'm guesstimating this book will clock in at around 70K, so if I don't finish in November, I should be able to in December. Can't WAIT to start drafting!

Happy writing, all!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When September Ends

Well yikes, last day of September and I haven't posted in a while!

Things are pretty slow on the writing front, I fear. Kind of dragging my feet finishing up that sequel, most likely because I really don't know what happens at the end and I'm at the point where I kind of NEED to know so I can write it! Ack. This, friends, Romans, countrymen, is why I'm such an advocate for outlines…

I'm also angsting about what to write for NaNoWriMo. I'd pretty much settled on the vaguely Russian fairytale-mashup, but now I'm kind of pondering this other idea and I just don't KNOW which to do. HALLLP.

We're also moving down the street coming up in a couple of weeks, and I've been packing up the office (and the books. oh so many books) and it's just going to get seriously chaotic before it settles down again. I'm sure I'll feel much better when we're all settled into our new place—just got to survive the actual moving!

Also—and I want to do an actual review sometime soon—last week I finished the PHENOMENAL book The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski, and you guys I seriously loved it SO MUCH. It hit me right in the Queen's Thief series feels and I kinda felt like it was written just for me, and there's two more books in the series but they're not out yet, and the second one doesn't get published until MARCH, and I just want it right now because SERIOUSLY IT WAS SO AMAZING.

Anyway. Quite possibly my favorite read of 2014!

Hope you all have a fantastic last day of September!

Friday, September 5, 2014

POV Experiments

First off, a brief update!

Alas, I did not get picked for Pitch Wars **cue buckets of tears** but I DID receive some pretty sweet feedback. So… to the traditional querying wagon I go, Batman! I will also be participating in PitMad next Tuesday, and have all my pitches scheduled and ready to go on Tweet Deck. Hoorah! Basically I'll be tweeting (well, Tweet Deck will!) twice an hour all day with variations of my 140-character pitch. So beware, Twitter followers!

In writing news, I've decided to keep my fairy tale retelling/mashup for NaNoWriMo, so in the meantime I'm going to finish the novel I was working on last November (which I started way back in 2009). I already wrote over a thousand words on it today! Feels good. And it'll be interesting, too, as I'm not ENTIRELY sure how this thing is going to end…

Which leads me to today's ramblings about writing.

I like to try a little something different with each new book that I write, because 1) I get bored easily and 2) I like the challenge! Mostly, the "something different" has to do with POV.

Once upon a time in 2005, I finished my very first actually novel-length novel. I wrote it in close third person from a couple of different POVs.

Later that year I wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, and chose first-person-past. It was my first heavy-fantasy-elements book, and I pulled a shocker POV change at the end to try something drastic.

My next novel I went back to close third with a couple more POV characters, and occasional sections of myths from an omniscient POV which gradually wound into the main storyline (if that sounds like the novel I'm currently querying, that's because IT IS! :-))

Next I tried out a dual first-person POV, partially in present tense, partially in past tense. It was a MONSTER of a novel and still remains an absolute mess, but it was super fun to write.

Next I went back into my myth-universe and returned to close third, with intermingled omniscient sections following an at-first-seemingly-random woman in an enchanted dream world.

Which I think brings me to 2009 and the novel I'm currently working on finishing. Back to close third again, but somehow I wound up with SEVEN viewpoint characters. Balancing all their arcs is a huge challenge, but it's really fun to be able to hop around to the different storylines.

After that I did a dual first-person POV in past tense—and one of the POV characters was blind. That was a SUPER interesting challenge, focusing on textures, sounds, etc. instead of sights.

So anyway. A little random look into my experiments with various POVs/tenses. I can't decide which one I like to write best—I think different things work for different stories, and I try to be true to the voice I hear in my head when I'm first brainstorming/outlining (I hear voices in my head, guys—run away!!).

I think my fairytale retelling/mashup novel will be first person, partially present tense, partially past. As a side-note, I generally dislike reading present tense, because often the writing sticks out to me and feels kind of awkward. There are some books I've read, however, that pull off present-tense so well I'm not even aware that it's happening. That takes some major writing chops, people! We'll see how I do. :-)

Happy weekend, and happy writing!

Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm Seriously Drawing a Blank for a Post Title, So You Get This One

Happy Monday, all!

I'm sitting here drinking tea and perusing the interwebs whilst anxiously patiently waiting for September 3rd and the announcement of the Pitch Wars picks!

What have I been doing writing-wise in the meantime? Well, last week I started outlining a brand new novel! It's the idea I attempted to write as a short story last year that was simply too big to keep under 10,000 words. I've got the whole plot outlined and most of the characters sorted out, and have already begun (though barely) my scene outline.

I'm super excited about it! I've been floundering deep in revision purgatory with two different manuscripts for nearly two years, and it's awesome to be back at the anything-could-happen and everything-is-wonderful-and-new-and-shiny brainstorming phase!

I don't really like to discuss projects in much detail when they're still delicate fledglings, but I will say it's a fairy-tale combo retelling that's making me squee.

In the meantime, I threw my hat into the writeoncon ring last week. It's an online writing convention that gives you the opportunity to give and receive critiques on other writers' queries and novel excerpts. There's also some ninja agents popping in this week, which could get interesting! Free to participate, but you do have to register to view the forums. Here's my query (which is also my Pitch Wars entry).

I also finished Ruin and Rising over the weekend, and it gave me ALL THE FEELS. You should have heard the whimpering noises I was making towards the end there. It got pretty serious.

And that's about it, folks!

Friday, August 15, 2014

That's a Wrap!

You guys.

You guys.


I finished my revision!!!!!!!!!!!!!

**cue confetti**

I'm so very, very excited at where this manuscript has ended up. Such a long haul, but it's been worth it!! With a few breaks (for revising a different book and drafting part of another) I've been at this rewrite since April 2013. 0_o But I'm finally finished and it feels GREAT.

And you know what else I'm excited about? My word count is down to 95,000!!!! That's 10K shorter than Draft 4, and, I'm embarrassed to say it, 23K shorter than Draft 3. :-D

So there you have it. I FINISHED AND I'M SO EXCITED!!! Off to dream about future projects, and stalk the #PitchWars feed on Twitter. :-)

All printed out and shiny!!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pitch Wars Mentee Bio!

Welcome, one and all, to my Pitch Wars Mentee Bio! If you don't know what Pitch Wars is, head here for all the deets. And go here for the bios of all the other awesome mentee hopefuls!

And now on to the aforementioned bio:

Hi, I'm Joanna, and I'm overly fond of semi-colons and em-dashes, as well as a staunch defender of the Oxford comma (Oxford commas save lives you guys).

I've been writing since I was about seven years old. For proof, here's my first ever story, complete with amazing illustrations like this one:

You can clearly see why I decided not to pursue a career in art.

At 13, I was published in the children's magazine Stone Soup. I submitted tons of stuff before getting this story accepted—I didn't give up until they said yes!

That's me in the top photo. My bangs are pretty sweet, I know.

Since 2005, I've written six full novels and parts of three others, and revised (and revised and reVISED) several of them. I think I'm getting pretty good at this whole revising thing. Death to unnecessary words! Long live proper pacing and character development!

My six completed drafts plus one unfinished one.

My Pitch Wars novel was first drafted during NaNoWriMo 2006, and was inspired by the myths in Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, the British India time period in M. M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon, Tolkien's Silmarilion, the mood of Keane's album Under the Iron Sea, and a single frame from the first Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie.

Incidentally, the name of my blog also comes from this album!

Interesting novel fact: I invented nearly all of the names for this book, and realized I'd accidentally given brothers (same father, different mothers) two different last names. Instead of making them the same, I decided that in my society children take their mother's surname, not their father's. (Okay I thought it was interesting.)

I'm a musician, specifically a pianist, and the cadence and flow of words and sentences and paragraphs are extremely important to me. I love the lyrical, flowing writing styles of Ursula K. LeGuin, Robin McKinley, Tanith Lee, and Erin Bow.

My favorite book of all time is probably The Return of the King. But I'm also madly in love with the aforementioned Queen's Thief series (seriously, I need the next book NOW), George Eliot's Middlemarch, Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock, Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, pretty much anything Jane Austen ever wrote (but especially Emma and Persuasion), and Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel.

Possibly my favorite wedding pic.
Bert likes revising, too.
I daylight as a piano teacher, and have been happily married to the love of my life for almost two years now (seriously my hubs is the best!!!). We live in Gilbert, AZ, where we share an apartment with our stripey feline Bertie and an enormous grand piano. I'm obsessed with looseleaf tea, ice cream, the color green, and Doctor Who.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: Shadow and Bone

Pardon me for a moment, but I need to gush about Shadow and Bone.

I finished it last night at midnight and I'm still experiencing a book hangover. I'm giddy with ALL the feelings!!!!!!

This is not a very coherent review so far.

I knew practically nothing about this book going into it besides I was in love with cover, it was vaguely set in Russia, and that a lot of people raved over it. It's kind of cool reading a book and having zero idea what it's about!

Anyway, so the story follows Alina, who finds out she is a Grisha (somebody who has magical powers) and gets taken to the palace to be trained. The Darlking, a powerful Grisha who's second-in-command to the king, thinks Alina has the power to take down the Shadowfold, which is basically this band of darkness filled with ravenous dragon-like creatures called the Volcra that enjoy feasting on human flesh. The Shadowfold divides the kingdom, and the Darkling hopes Alina can destroy it and rejoin the land. The Darkling is dangerous and intoxicating and fascinating. There's also Mal, the boy Alina grew up with. He serves as a tracker in the army, and their friendship is the force that drives the novel. And that's all the plot summary I can give for fear of spoilers!

The characterization, plot and pacing (I am in awe of the pacing, for serious) are phenomenal, the writing is lovely, the setting vivid. It's a fantastic, smart story, executed to perfection. I can't wait to read the rest of the series!

ETA: My synopsis of this novel makes it sound kind of cliché. It's not. The story goes to dark, twisty places, and Alina is a fascinating, well-drawn character. She's flawed. She makes mistakes. She's not perfect. But I empathized with her in a very real way. Also, parts of this book strongly reminded me of an old favorite, Crown Duel, which made me love it even more.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nook Love


That's right! A Nook GlowLight!!

So excited!!
I'm already completely head over heels! First book I downloaded was Pride & Prejudice (because you always need Jane Austen at your fingertips), second was Shadow and Bone (which I've been wanting to read for a while. Love it so far!). I'll be trying hard to control my downloads so I don't accidentally bankrupt us. :-D

Anyways, I LOVE this thing. It is just the best! Thank you, awesomest of all awesome husbands!!


Monday, July 21, 2014

All Along the Road

This long slow slog can get disheartening. Revision sucks. Rejections sting. Feeling like it's impossible to get to the next level—no matter how hard you try—is horribly frustrating.

But in the end, it's got to be about the writing. It's got to be about the stories inside you bursting to get out. It's got to be about your passion for the craft, your love for language and characters and story.

It's so easy to get discouraged, to want to give up. But don't you dare.

Keep fighting.

Keep dreaming.

Keep writing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Drawer Novels

So I've been pondering "drawer novels" lately. You know, those books people write before The Book that gets them an agent/gets them published, etc, the books people shove into drawers that will never see the light of day.

You have to write lots to get better at writing. You just do. Which kind of means those drawer novels are like practice novels, except I don't really like to think of them that way. If you go into writing your first (or second or third or fourth) novel with the mindset that it's going to be crap and just practice/filler until that elusive Book that will really be Something, I think you're kind of missing the point.

I write because I love stories and characters, and I have tons of them in me that need to come out. But if I didn't believe wholeheartedly in every single one of my novels, I wouldn't have written them in the first place.

Since 2005, I've written six complete novels and three other incomplete ones, and it is absolutely true that I've improved as a writer since then. But even now, when I'm able to step back and look at those earlier novels and see their many flaws, I don't think they're completely worthless, or that their only purpose was in honing my skills. I still believe that those novels' hearts are sound, and that if I was compelled to revise/rewrite/reshape them, I could do something with them.

Granted, I have so many other stories to tell I don't know if I'll ever get around to doing that, but the point is (I do have a point!) that I am proud of every single one of my books, regardless if no one ever sees those earlier ones but me.

Those books have made me the writer I am, and I keep them proudly in binders on my bookshelf!

Nothing you write is ever a waste. If you don't believe your current project is something special—whether it be your first or your twentieth—why even write it at all?

Believe in your writing, in your characters, in your stories. Believe in those drawer novels. Own up to them proudly.

All the Novels I've Written Thus Far
From left to right: On Journeys Bound, The Rose Queen, The Whale and the Tree,
The Fire in the Glass, The Silver Crane, The Blind King (
unfinished), Seer's Song
Not pictured: The Last Garden (unfinished), Reader (unfinished)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

From the Mind of a Budding Novelist with Rather Strange Ideas

I don't know about you, but I had a lot of strange ideas when I was a kid. Stuff where I had questions about the workings of life and the world and everyday things, but instead of asking a qualified adult, I made up the answers in my head, and went with that.

Like, I thought that people actually died when they were killed on-screen in movies. And therefore I concluded that the people weren't actors so much as they were criminals on death row and that's how they were executed. You guys, I literally thought this.

We went on a lot of road trips when I was a kid. I always stared at the double yellow lines dividing the highways, and concluded that when the double lines morphed into dashed lines, the stripe-painters had obviously run out of paint.

I'm pretty sure I thought my parents were related. Not in a brother-sister kind of way, really. More like a Mom-and-Dad-have-always-been-Mom-and-Dad-and-are-therefore-related kind of way (I dunno. Made sense to me at the time).

And I was super confused when my grandmother came to visit from Michigan when I was little and my mom called her 'mom', and that didn't compute, because how could my mom have a mom?????

So anyway, now you know. A frightening glimpse inside my strange little mind…

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Once Upon Draft Five

So I'm gearing up for Draft #5 now, and I'm actually SUPER EXCITED about it! Mostly because I'm fairly certain the grueling start-from-scratch stuff is OVER, and I just can't wait to make this book what it was meant to be in the first place!

Stuff I'm working on in this draft:

  1. Stream-lining the novel. I want to cut AT LEAST 10,000 words
  2. Make character motivations clear.
  3. Work on pacing.
  5. Condense/simplify my myths
  6. Delete one of the character's POVs.
So. We'll see how long this takes.

And GO!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I FINISHED!!!! Ahhhhhhhh!

One week ago today, I woke up early and wrote for five hours, determined to at least try to finish my draft before the end of the month. And you guys?


I am so deliriously happy. :-D :-D :-D

There's definitely another draft to go—I am determined to make this novel the absolute best it can be—but for tonight at least I'm resting on my laurels!

And now some word count stats, because I always find that interesting:

Rough Draft: 104,000 words

Third Draft: 118,000 words

Fourth Draft: 106,000 words

I'm hoping to get my final draft at least down to 100K, but I'm dreaming big (small?) and shooting for somewhere between 90 and 95K. We shall see!

Anyways, basically…


:-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing by Writing

You know what? You sure do learn a lot about writing by… writing.

Kind of an obvious thing to say, I suppose, but it's true. I've been rewriting a novel I first drafted back in 2006, and I have learned and grown as a writer SO MUCH since then. Why? Because I keep writing books. You get such a feel for plot and pacing and character development when you keep doing it, over and over and over again.

I'm not saying I can pop out a completely perfect first draft these days (hahaha), but I'm learning from my mistakes. I'm getting better. And I'm also not saying that every word I wrote in earlier novels was crap—I'm reusing a healthy amount of prose in my current rewrite from the previous draft, plus the main plot and most of the original ideas. I just feel better equipped to properly bring this story to life now, as I've written three full books and parts of another three since 2006.

I'm still learning how to revise, but you know what? I think I'm getting better at that, too. Because I keep doing it.

I guess that's the main point of this post. Like anything—music, sports, cooking, paying your bills on time—you only get better at something by doing it over and over again.

And that means I'd better stop blogging and go write.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rewrite Update

It's been a long road since I started the Most Massive Rewrite Ever in April 2013. I'm not done yet, but I'm slowly getting there—the end of this draft is finally in sight. Eight and a half chapters left to get through, some rewriting of old material, some brand new scenes, including a completely different ending (unless I change my mind!).

Trying not to despair that I've been at this for over a year, because 1) It's so vastly different from the original it's like writing a new book, 2) I took time off to write 50K of something else in November for NaNoWriMo, and 3) I spent March and April revising an entirely different novel. It's not been QUITE as long as it seems, but it's still pretty grueling.

I'd love to finish this draft by July so I can start the next draft, which will hopefully go much faster because I'll have existing material to work with. We shall see!

Also, this novel is kind of having an identity crisis. It's definitely fantasy, but I'm not sure it's as Young Adult as I originally thought. I don't know what it is. But I'll figure it out. Probably. :-)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

We wants it, precious!

You guys, I want a Nook Glowlight. For reals.

Generally I'm a you-can-pry-my-paper-books-from-my-cold-dead-hands kind of a person, but it's just so cute and has rubbery edges and the screen lights up so you can read it at night and it holds 2,000 books and has e-ink and a ridiculously long battery life and I JUST WANT ONE, OKAY???

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Revision Process

So I've been thinking lately about my revision process—probably because my writing projects for the last year and a half have consisted of revising two different novels, but what can you do?

I'm a fast first-drafter and a long reviser. I adore first drafts. Apart from the initial onslaught of brainstorming new ideas (which is always awesome), first-drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. First-drafting is generally pretty easy for me. Revising is HARD. That said, there's an amazing sense of accomplishment when you make it through a really tough revision. It feels good to be able to turn your novel into what you meant it to be in the first place, no matter how agonizing and arduous the process.

I'm a Big-Picture-First reviser. I revise first for PLOT. Despite my detailed outlining, my plot always needs help when the dust settles from my not-as-shiny-as-I-thought first draft. My second draft usually involves Very Drastic Changes. This is where I'll flesh out characters, delete minor characters that aren't doing anything, work on my pacing, rearrange scenes, delete whole chapters and replace them with completely new ones. There's a lot of metaphorical blood and guts on the floor when I'm working on my second drafts.

I've mentioned this before, but I usually re-key the entire book when I'm rewriting. This helps me get into the flow of the story when I write new scenes, as well as forcing me to rethink everything as I go. It takes a while, but it works for me!

When I've finally finished retyping the book and making all the changes, I'll print it out and go through line-by-line and fiddle with the prose. That part's easy and fun.

Depending on the novel and feedback, I might do another revision after that, usually not nearly as extensive as Draft #2.

So really, I end up not going through a ton of drafts, because my initial revision is so extensive. Which is maybe why it takes so long, and definitely why it's so incredibly painful.

Currently I'm back revising THE WHALE AND THE TREE. This is my third major draft (technically Draft #4, but I really don't remember what Draft #3 even was; probably just a light revision?), and the revision is extensive. I've changed a lot as a person and a writer since I first wrote and revised it (in 2006 and 2007/08, respectively), and this new version will (hopefully!) reflect that. There will DEFINITELY be another draft after this one, and I envision it involving a ton of hacking. I'm sort of feeling my way through this draft and there will be a lot of things to sort out when I'm done. I'm hoping to finish in the next few months, but we'll see!!

So anyway. That's some rambling thoughts on my revision process.

I'll leave you with some pictures we took in Glendora, CA this weekend of THIS AWESOME AND ENORMOUS TREE:

Isn't it amazingly BIG???
I'm standing between ROOTS, people!

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Tale of Four Drafts

And now, ladies and gents, I give you SEER: A Tale of Four Drafts

The Four Drafts, from bottom to top, in all their glory.

Initial Idea: December 23rd, 2009

Outlining: 10 days (January 7th—17th 2010)

First Draft: 7 weeks (January 18th—March 7th 2010)

Word Count: 70,018

Revision Outline: 3ish weeks (March 25th—April 18th 2010)

Second Draft: 6 months and 3 weeks (April 19th—November 8th 2010)

Word Count: 81,937

Third Draft: 4ish months (January—April 2013)

Word Count: 88,819

Fourth Draft: 2 months (March—April 2014)

Word Count: 70,242

So. Four years, four drafts. The word count rise and fall is really interesting to me—I ended up about where I started, adding and deleting completely different words along the way.

(For anybody wondering about the long gap between November 2010 and January 2013, I was busy working on other projects, querying, and falling in love and getting married. :-D)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Survive an Arizona Summer

(a not-really-all-that-sarcastic-blog-post-by-Joanna)

  1. Stay inside as much as is humanly possible. Draw the blinds. Keep the lights off, turn the fans on. DON'T LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.
  2. Drink lots of water, and bring water with you any time you have to leave your house.
  3. Park your car away from the direction of the sun.
  4. Go shopping before noon.
  5. Bring a cooler with ice packs to keep your perishable food from… perishing… en route from the grocery store to your house.
  6. Bring a sweater when going to restaurants/movie theaters. Somehow business establishments can afford enough air conditioning to mimic arctic temperatures.
  7. Stick your head in the freezer, shut your eyes, and dream of Alaska.
  8. Remind yourself that November is coming. Eventually.
  9. Try not to envision the grisly and most-definitely-pre-meditated murder of the next out-of-state person who tells you glibly "It's a dry heat."
  10. Try not to weep at your power bill.
  11. Head north to Prescott/Flagstaff for the weekend. Or every weekend.
  12. Eat ice cream. You deserve it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ultraviolet & Sorrow's Knot

Happy April to all and sundry! Also, how is it April already? Pretty sure that joke's on all of us…

Whilst waiting for feedback on my revisions, I read two phenomenal books last week: Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson, and Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow.

Ultraviolet is sneaky—it starts out as one kind of book and ends up as another and was an amazing ride. Interesting and colorful and unusual.

Sorrow's Knot ripped my heart out and trod on it a bit—definitely read that one with a box (or two!) of kleenex. Lyrical and eerie and gut-wrenching.

Both books are HIGHLY recommended!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kill 'Em

So, last week I hacked the first part of SEER to bits, then slowly stitched it back together again. I condensed/cut down the first ten chapters to just six, and my word count of 89,000 is now at 73,000. 0_o I think I'm beginning to learn the true meaning of the phrase "kill your darlings"...  Not 100% sure if all the changes are working quite yet, but I'll get there!

The aftermath of the hacking! Deleted scenes over there on the right.

In other news, I get to see Shannon Hale tomorrow night at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. I'm so excited!!!

In other other news, I now own the Frozen bluray AND the Frozen soundtrack, so that's pretty awesome. :-D Seriously, that movie is so good I could watch it every single day like a seven-year-old. Beauty and the Beast will always be my favorite Disney movie, but Frozen and Tangled come pretty close these days.

And last but not least, the hubs and I scored this awesome coffee table at a garage sale last weekend:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Once More into the Breach!

You guys. I'm revising SEER again. Fourth draft's the charm, right? Armed with notecards and pens and intrepid daring and my awesome critique partner (who read the whole book in ONE DAY because she's amazing!!), I'm gonna DO this.

*picks up sword and runs bellowing into the woods*

Index cards are super cheap. Who knew??

This is what SEER looks like as wallpaper.

Monday, March 3, 2014

So Many Books to Write, So Little Time

So I'm trying out a new blog template. What do you guys think? I was getting frustrated with formatting issues that I didn't know how to fix on the old template, and decided to go for something new! I'm liking the clean, simple style of this one. I fell in love with a couple of templates on Etsy (here and here), but until I can save up $30, this nice free template suits me just fine. :-)

Kind of a little stalled with ye olde revision—popped back into Part One to try and fix the ending two chapters, but kind of mystified as to how. Might just leave them alone and return to my Part Two rewrite instead and worry about it in my next editing pass. Blech. Ugh. The revision never ends!!!

On another note, I had a shiny new idea last week. It's still brewing right now, but I'm kind of in love with it. I'm tempted to forget the revision and just let this new novel whisk me away into the sunset, but I know that wouldn't be responsible at this point. :-D Anyways. I think it could be pretty special!

Definitely want to add it to the roster, but I've already got:

  • My NaNoWriMo novel from 2009/2013 to finish (princesses and kings and betrayal and war and true love and hidden identities!)
  • That short story idea that wants to be a novel from last year to write (fairytale retelling mashup! Russia! Wolves!)
  • The rewrite-I-work-on-every-once-in-awhile-from-a-story-idea-I-first-had-in-the-90s to finish (basically a bromance, with sword fights and journeys and adventures and battles—this is the first novel I ever wrote; the 2009/2013 NaNo novel is its sequel)
  • My current rewrite's companion novel to rewrite (gods and kings and cupbearers and murder and enchantments!)

So many books to write. So little time. I guess I should stop blogging and do something about it… :-)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday: UK Trip 2011: LONDON

It's not too late to blog about a trip two and a half years after the fact, right? Okay good, 'cause that's what I'm gonna do. :-D

In the summer of 2011, my BFF and I went to the UK for 12 days—she was going for a literary conference; I was going because ENGLAND YOU GUYSSSS. Our trip broke down into four basic stages: London, Edinburgh, York, and London again.

Here's part one!


We arrived in London at about 7:30 AM British time, completely exhausted and jetlagged like you wouldn't believe (jet lag is REAL, people!). We had a snack in the airport and I used pounds and pence for the first time! I also dropped my credit card on the ground after buying train tickets, 0_o but fortunately realized it before anything disastrous happened. Oh, and as I was standing in line for the bathroom, I got asked if I "was in the queue" which was awesome. :-D

We took the train to the tube station (don't remember which one!) and got separated on the tube when I got off too early and she kept going—I asked for directions from a nice British lady and we eventually found each other again at the tube stop by our bed and breakfast. We realized maybe we should have bought minutes for our phones or something so we could get a hold of each other in the event of separation (whoops). Our bed and breakfast was this cute little house on a residential street, and the owner was nice enough to let us check in early, and we got hooked up to the internet and took a much needed NAP. Tragically, we were so ridiculously jetlagged that we opted out of going to the Globe Theater to see ARTHUR DARVIL on stage. Still bummed about that!! :-(

We ate at a charming little pub a few blocks away from our B&B, and were asked what sauces we would like with our meals. Jenny inquired politely what sauces they had (we had no idea why we were being asked about sauces, haha), and the waitress gave us a funny look and was all: "ketchup, mustard…" So apparently sauces = condiments. Good to know!

We spent the majority of the next day at the British Museum, which was filled with all kinds of incredibly amazing things, and I kind of wish I could go there every single day. We ate our first triangularly-packaged sandwiches on the lawn of the museum—there seemed to be a lot of opportunity to eat triangularly-packaged sandwiches that whole trip! I bought an adorable British Museum mug.

In the afternoon, we went to St. Paul's cathedral, and climbed all the way to the top! It was exhausting but so worth it. Then we stayed for Evensong, which was the MOST GORGEOUS THING I HAVE EVER HEARD.

Back at the B&B I discovered that my wifi had decided it was allergic to foreign air, and refused to connect EVEN THOUGH IT HAD WORKED FINE THE DAY BEFORE!!! It didn't work the entire rest of the trip. :-P Jenny generously let me borrow her laptop, which was apparently fine with overseas travel, but it was kind of rough for both of us to communicate with everybody back home! It was also the greatest period of time I had been away from my then-boyfriend-now-husband in the five months we'd been dating, and the separation was kind of a shock! Missing significant others is FOR REAL!! Yikes!

Next day we planned to head to Cambridge and spend the day there. Jenny was getting sick. :-( Highlight of the day was conversing with a British couple over breakfast about Doctor Who. It was like the epitome of awesome. They were impressed at how much we Americans knew. :-D

The Cambridge trip was kind of a disaster—personality clashes (oops), sickness, and fragile tempers began to rear their ugly heads. 0_o We did take a nice punting tour about the college, though, and got to ride a relaxing train, but all in all not our finest moments…

Next day was all about GETTING TO EDINBURGH, but I'll leave that for the next post. :-)

In London, our first night

Jet-lagged and ready for FOOD!

Our Bed & Breakfast

At the Boston Manor Tube Stop by our B&B

The British Museum!

Inside the British Museum

At the top of St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Punting in Cambridge

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Procrastination, Rewrite Update, and Arizona Always Does Its Own Thing

And because I'm behind on blogging this month and I want to procrastinate actually working on my novel, here's a second post for today. :-)

On the writing front, I'm still slogging away on that giant rewrite. I'm just about to start chapter five of part two, and there's fifteen chapters after that, so I've still got a ways to go, blech. I reallllly want to be done with this draft by the end of March, so I'd better get cracking. Trying not to think about how I get to go through it again after that because this rewrite is so massive it's like 50% brand new material which needs editing and pondering and possibly rearranging and rewriting. Oh man this is so much work. You see why I'm procrastinating??

I'm so ready to be on to something NEW! Trying do decide if I'll start writing a brand new novel (from last year's set-aside short story), finish off my draft from November, or Something Else Entirely. So many possibilities!

Meanwhile, Arizona has forgotten it's February and has decided to skyrocket into the mid-to-upper-80s, which is making me grumpy because summer is coming soon and WE NEVER HAD WINTER!!!!!! >:-( It's so weird to me that the rest of the country is wreathed in eternal White Witch Narnian winter, and Arizona is all like "la dee dah, let's break some heat records for this time of year." Anyways. I REFUSE to turn on the air conditioning. You know. In the house. It's definitely on in my car…

So. There you have it.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I just finished this exquisite book last week, and I cannot recommend it enough! Beautiful language and storytelling, compelling characters—it's just absolutely gorgeous. And because I'm too lazy to do a proper review, here are a few of the many (MANY!) quotable lines from Fairyland:

“She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people.”
“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”
“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.” 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Older and Wiser… ?

So on Monday I turned THIRTY. Isn't that weird?

Last weekend my awesome husband took me on a hot air balloon ride to celebrate, and it was SO AMAZING!! I now want to travel everywhere by balloon!

Our balloon.

On top of the world!

And on my birthday he got me an oh-so-delicious giant cookie cake from Paradise Bakery. It was all I ever dreamed it would be!

Because all the cool kids wear Disney shirts on their 30th birthday

In writing news, I have made some progress on the revision. I'm almost finished with the first chapter of Part 2, and also ruminating on some changes to the end of Part 1. Still a long way to go, but I think I'm going to make it through this thing!

Here's to a (hopefully!) awesome new decade!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Plants are Pretty Cool, right?

I'm at that point with my revision of Part II where I just basically hate everything. I've outlined what I have. I've made lots of rambling notes about what I want to be different. I'm trying to figure out how to merge the two and it's just AWFUL!! Blarg. I go through this with Every Single Revision, you would think I'd be used to it now, but noooo.

It's like, I know I'll reach that point where I've got everything figured out and I can start the actual rewriting process, but right now it's hard to see it. I'm questioning everything: does this scene belong? would this character really behave like that? what is the point of this storyline? how do I develop this naturally? does anything in here make even A LITTLE BIT OF SENSE?? Should I just give up and become a horticulturist???

So anyways. That's how it's going.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Check out my new tumblr! Not too much there yet, but I'm really liking the layout and everything. Bonus: see my very first published story!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Notes from the Revision Trenches

Yesterday, I finished Part One of my epic rewrite, and it was awesome, and I'm so proud of my changes!

Today, I remembered that I only have a few brainstorming notes about Part Two, and I don't really know what I'm doing to it, and there is SO MUCH LEFT to rewrite it's kind of giving me a headache. Yikes.

This is my third major draft of this manuscript—I first wrote it during NaNoWriMo 2006, and I rewrote it in 2008. I dearly love its core elements and I know I've already made it better, but WOW, the second half is going to be a lot harder than I thought. Not to mention I've yet to 100% decide on whether or not I'm drastically altering the ending…

In addition to the major scene changes and a vast amount of rewriting, I'm also trying to cut as many words as possible. I'll be able to focus on that more once I have the whole draft down and can judge what's working and what's not, but the good news is Part One is 3K shorter in this draft than it was in the previous one, so that's encouraging! I would dearly love this to end up around 90K, but if I'm being honest, I'll be happy to get it down to the 100K mark. We shall see!!

On a side note, I've been rereading my NaNo part-of-a-novel from November, and while it definitely needs some help here and there, it's a lot better than I thought. I'm digging it!

Okay. Back to sorting through this second half.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's January Already!

So, so, so, welcome to the second day of 2014! It's sunny and seventies in AZ, which might make a lot of you jealous, but I really wouldn't mind some clouds and snow and a roaring fire and some hot chocolate. I am drinking black currant tea with cream, though, so that's something!

On the roster for 2014:

  • I'm turning 30 in twenty-five days. That sounds really old. 0_o (Obviously this isn't a goal, just an inevitable event.)
  • Whale and the Tree revision. Hoping to be finished circa April, although this draft will need at least another pass after that. Really proud of my changes so far! I think it's already a much stronger manuscript.
  • Another novel. Possibly another revision, possibly a reworking of last year's short story idea, possibly something completely new. We'll see!
  • I have a ton of books I want to read, including but not limited to: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Sorrow's Knot, The Bitter Kingdom, Shadow and Bone, The Fault in Our Stars, Unthinkable, The Name of the Wind, The Night Circus, Reflections (Diana Wynne Jones on writing), and whatever else has yet to tickle my fancy! (Book suggestions always welcome!)
That's it for now. More later if I think of anything! Also, my tea is gone, so it seems a fitting place to end.

Go forth and be awesome, everyone!