Thursday, March 23, 2017

DRACONIAN // In which Liz gets sappy


DRACONIAN has been the work of almost eight years, the driving force behind the majority of my writing journey thus far. Of course I’ve worked on other projects as well, including TIME IN A BOTTLE, which I went on to polish and pitch to agents and, ultimately, trunk. Since the idea first came to me, DRACONIAN has demanded to be told. In all its many iterations, it has spanned multiple computers (five) and homes (four). It began as a short story I wrote for literature class when I was twelve, became the 60K word rough draft I completed as a part of my schoolwork, survived my purple-prose-loving phase, and grew through my depression after receiving extremely negative feedback from a beta reader on one side and dozens of agent rejections on the other, before finally arriving at this stage, completed and ready for the query trenches. I can honestly say that as much as I hoped, and as much as I dreamed, I never quite expected to make it here. 

I look at it, and I see the bones from the very first draft. I also see the years of desire and doubt that followed. It has seen me through the stages where I struggled to sleep at night because I wanted, wanted, wanted till I was sick to my stomach to hold that book, published, in my hands, to have the validation that would make people’s judgement less bitter, less painful, less justified. I can’t count the times I let myself see my manuscript through another’s eyes, to the point where I wanted to burn it and move on because I wasn’t big enough or smart enough. It waited patiently while I listened to others who said my dream wasn’t worth sacrificing for, while my guilt and anxiety got the best of me and made me forget that I’m a writer to my core. 

When I decided to write a fresh rough draft of DRACONIAN during NaNoWriMo 2014, I expected to be finished by November 2015, because that was how things worked the year before. I can’t adequately express how sick I felt when November 2016 came and went and I still wasn’t done. I was stuck. I wanted to work on other projects. I was beyond tired. But I had to, had to, I say I had to finish. 

Even after this November, even mere strides from the finish line compared to the legwork I had already completed, I was not sure I had it in me to sprint down the homestretch. But I knew I had to try regardless. Because if there’s anything running cross country has taught me, it’s that you always have more in you than you realize. 

I've lost track of the amount of drafts I had to go through with this problem child—far more than I needed with TIME IN A BOTTLE. The vast majority of those drafts felt like hate drafts. I’ve lost track of the hours I spent filling in plot holes, wrestling awkward sentences, and crying over world-building, but I’m sure the 900 plus hours I spent on TIME IN A BOTTLE pale in comparison. Where TIB was a cakewalk, DRACONIAN was a marathon through Death Valley. The biggest redeeming quality of this experience is realizing that while it is possible to fall out of love with a novel, to see only its faults and none of its beauty, it is equally possible to fall back in love. 

So yes, I am moving on the next stage—the query trenches. While I am excited and nervous to be here for round two, with more faith in myself and more understanding that I am not the sure bestseller I thought I was, and while the thought of getting published is both nerve-wracking and difficult to imagine, I am pleased. I am happy. Even if this book never gets an agent, never makes it to the shelves, I will still have this: Against all odds, I finished. I proved my doubts wrong. Regardless of where this book ends up—your home or my trunk—I will still have succeeded. And that, my coffee beans, is more than sufficient. 

Last but not least, I need to wander into the realm of cheese and mushiness, because you all deserve a big thank you. Were it not for your support and encouragement, your excitement over my snippets and your faith in me, I wouldn’t have found the energy to finish this. I really hope I get to share DRACONIAN with you some day. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some writing successes of yours that you’d like to celebrate?

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Court of Mist and Fury // My Conundrum


Three Stars—Good

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES

Unlike with ACOTAR, I drafted this review the same day I finished reading A COURT OF MIST AND FURY. I think this calls for a celebratory coffee. 


The Rating and a Content Warning.

I wanted to cover this bit first because I think giving it three stars is a tad misleading. I was tempted to give it two stars; I was also tempted to give it four. Or five. Or one. (Okay, not one.) *headdesk* Let it be known, I enoyed ACOMAF, and part of the reason I took so long reading it (several months) was because I wanted to suffer from a book hangover for as short a time as possible (since A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN comes out in May). However, the biggest, BIGGEST reason why I docked two stars was the sexual content. I was warned that there would be some, but there was a good deal more than some. And I do not like sexy times in books. They make me uncomfortable, they gross me out, and they make me sad because I don’t feel super okay recommending books with this level of sexual content, even if I liked all the other parts. (I know I probably include this disclaimer a lot, but rest assured, if you loved, loved, loved this book, I’m not judging you. I’m just saying that stuff is not for me.) 

So, a word to the wise. 

Moving on. 


PTSD, Depression, Food, and Art. 

At the end of ACOTAR, after an extremely traumatizing ordeal Under the Mountain, Feyre is killed and then brought back to life as a High Fae (that was a lot of capitalization). Naturally, this has a lasting impact on her mental health. She finds herself unable to keep food down, unable to paint, unable to feel much of anything. I kind of felt her pain here, given some of the struggles I’ve been going through recently. It helped to have some perspective. 

Because I’m prejudiced against Romance (as a genre) in general, I hadn’t expected such an honest, nuanced representation of mental trauma. In this case, I wasn’t just surprised, I was moved. Even if this book had no other redeeming qualities, I would love it simply for how it shows Feyre’s emotional journey. 


Relationships.

I can’t go into much detail here without risking spoilers, so let me just say: I was intrigued by Feyre’s relationship with both Tamlin and Rhysand. Coming into the series, I had expected something a little different with regards to these three characters, but Maas ended up surprising me. Though I think I already know what’s going to happen now, I’m ohmygosh so excited to see how this trilogy ends. (And she’s writing three more books in the ACOTAR universe!?! WANT.) 


Small issues.

There are thick books, like THE HOST, where I genuinely believe that removing any detail (or word, or scene, etc.) would take away from the story, but there are more commonly cases with thick books, like ACOMAF, where I have to wonder if the book could have benefited with more tightening. That being said, I admire Sarah and her work ethic to the moon and back (and then to the moon again). Of all the writers I have stalked researched, I find her to be one of the most inspiring. It takes crazy amounts of time and effort to publish two thick books a year and not end up stabbing yourself in the eye with a pair of tweezers. So yeah, props to her. I just think she needed a bit more time. 


In Conclusion.

While there were some stylistic aspects I wasn't as much of a fan of, and while I don’t feel comfortable recommending this book, given how broad my blog audience is, I did enjoy the overall experience of the story and am excited to read A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read ACOMAF? What are some elements in stories that make you uncomfortable? What are some reasons why you might not recommend a book you enjoyed?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Guest Post // Danielle Hines


Hello everyone! My name is Danielle ~ Liz and I are old writing friends who experienced some of our first Nanowrimos together, and one of my favorite things is getting together with her to book shop and talk writing. Liz (in her usual manner of awesomeness) has allowed me a guest post on her blog! Hope you enjoy! 


The Hero’s Journey
A brief overview of a classic structure, and thoughts on the planning vs. pantsing dilemma. 


The Hero’s journey is a narrative pattern originated by Joseph Campbell. It is born from the Monomyth theory which states that all classic stories carry the same basic traits and formulas when broken down systematically.

Now, as a fiction writer myself, this certainly catches my eye. You mean there’s a formula that I can follow that will magically produce a work of classic literature? Sign me up! Alas and alack, writing is rarely this straight-forward and simple (so few things are). 

That being said, this theory and the studying of it does have its merits for a writer. For one, the close study of other stories is a fantastic idea. It is my firm opinion that reading is the greatest apprenticeship available to us as writers. Secondly, if you are a planner, it can be nice to have a few guidelines that you can turn to when you get stuck. Thirdly… has this ever happened to anyone? You’ve been plugging along on your manuscript, then horror of horrors! About forty-thousand words in, you have no idea what to write next. And you have no idea how to figure it out.

Well, this just might help.

The Hero’s Journey follows the Hero (protagonist) through twelve stages that shape the story. I will be using masculine pronouns in the descriptions for simplicity, but don’t freak out! A hero can just as easily be a woman as it can be a man. 


The 12 stages:

1) THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero is unveiled to the audience in their own world and environment. Often they are introduced in such a way that we can automatically sympathize with them, and thus our attention has been won for this story. Also, the hero usually has tension in his life causing him to wish to pull away from his norm.

2) THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something happens that changes things, either external or internal, and the hero must face the beginnings of change. 

3) REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero dreads this plunge into the unknown and tries to turn back, however short-lived this turning back may be. Optionally, a friend or other character can express this dread of the dangers that now lie before the hero.

4) MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero meets a wise traveler who imparts training, equipment, or advice that will aid the journey.

5) CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. This, the end of Act 1, is when the hero fully commits to leaving his Ordinary World and plunging into the Unknown World (mental or physical) which contains unknown rules, codes, and dangers. 

6) TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and begins to accumulate allies and enemies in the Unknown World.

7) APPROACH. The hero and his new allies prepare for the central challenge in the Unknown World.

8) THE BELLY OF THE WHALE. This point comes towards the middle of the story, and in it the hero confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. From the moment of death, new life must spring. 

9) THE REWARD. The hero wins the treasure won by facing death. The treasure can be something physical (a healing elixir) or mental (the key piece of knowledge that will end world hunger) There may be celebration, but there is still danger of losing the treasure again.

10) THE ROAD BACK. This is about the three-quarter mark in the book, and in it, the hero is driven to finish the adventure, leaving the Unknown World and bringing the treasure back home. There may be a chase scene or reminder of the state of the homeland that signals the immediacy of the adventure’s outcome.

11) THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of his return. He is cleansed by a last sacrifice (another moment of death and rebirth) this time to a higher scale. The results of winning this final trial are that the tension that the hero felt in the beginning are, at last, resolved.

12) RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero then returns home or continues his journey. He now carries some element of the treasure that has the power to transform his known world just as the hero himself has been transformed.

Got all that? I know, it’s a lot to take in. Here is an example to help you apply all this. (Okay, let’s be honest, this part is mostly for my own nerdy enjoyment.) A classic story converted into a Hero’s Journey:


Frodo’s Hero’s Journey (for The Fellowship of the Ring):

1) THE ORDINARY WORLD: The shire and Bilbo’s birthday party.

2) THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: The ring is bequeathed to Frodo and Gandalf presents him with the need to get the ring out of the Shire.

3) REFUSAL OF THE CALL: Gandalf and Samwise express concern over Frodo’s quest.

4) MEETING WITH THE MENTOR: This could be meeting Aragorn at the tavern (since he provides advice and aid) though Gandalf is also a primary mentor.

5) CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: Travelling to Rivendell, Weathertop is a signature “unknown world” experience.

6) TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES: The forming of the fellowship!

7) APPROACH: Entering the Mines of Moria.

8) THE BELLY OF THE WHALE: Gandalf’s death.

9) THE REWARD: Their escape from the Mines, Galadriel’s gifts, and Frodo’s newfound determination to do whatever must be done to save middle earth.

10) THE ROAD BACK: Traveling with the fellowship from Lothlorien to Amon Hen.

11) THE RESSURECTION: Frodo faces Boromir over the ring.

12) RETURN WITH THE ELIXER: Frodo leaves the fellowship with Samwise. He now carries more skills and knowledge than at the start of his tale, and he continues his ultimate quest of saving Middle Earth.


If you haven’t read or watched The Lord of the Rings, now you have homework!

This presentation only scratches the surface of everything involved with the Hero’s Journey. Archetypes are explored, the stages are mixed and matched to demonstrate other structures available, and much more. For more info on and application of the hero’s journey, I would recommend Google and “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler. 


Lastly, a few quick thoughts on planning and pantsing. (For those of you who might be new to the game, “pantsing” is sort of a shortened version of “flying by the seat of your pants.” Put more simply, pantsing = not planning.) 

To plan or not to plan, that is the question. I’ve heard a lot of compelling arguments for each of these schools of thought. On the one hand, if you don’t plan, your story can end up a meandering and chaotic mess. Then again, most first drafts end up this way anyways. On the other hand, if you do plan, everything you type can end up stiff and predictable. Then again, refer to my notes on the dreaded first draft.

So what’s the answer? 

The answer to this is not simple (seeing a trend?). It really depends on your own unique writing style, and I think most writers use a mix of both. Some writers plunge ahead with blind abandon on their first draft, then start reshaping things during the editing process. Others begin with the kernel of the idea, then plot as they go, once the themes of the story and the overall shape begin to emerge. Whatever you choose, always remember that writing is rewriting and your story is worth it.


I hope this post has been informative and (perhaps) even a little entertaining. A gigantic thank you to the lovely word-slayer Liz Brooks for the honor of guest posting on her fantastic blog. Happy writing, coffee beans!


Was this post helpful? What are your experiences with planning and pantsing? Share in the comments below!

Also, here’s a link to my blog. If you happen to live in Maine and enjoy a good adventure of your own, this might be for you: Adventures Beneath Katahdin Skies

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Court of Thorns and Roses // An Overdue Review


Four Stars—Great

I had meant to post my review of Sarah J Maas’ A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES sometime during Valentine’s week. I’d also intended to review A COURT OF MIST AND FURY and CRUEL BEAUTY during that same week so I could tie them all together with a neat little bow, which obviously didn’t happen. I finished ACOMAF on the last day of February and, as of writing this post, still have yet to read CB. 

Le sigh. 

When I do get around to reading CB (and since my Kindle reading habits have been sporadic and spastic of late, who knows when that will be?), I still hope to do a post comparing and contrasting ACOTAR and CB. I also plan to buy A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN when it comes out, and I might even read and review it in a reasonable amount of time. We’ll see. 

For now, let’s talk about ACOTAR. 


The Set-Up.

While ACOTAR is primarily a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling (yay!), it also inlcudes elements of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (a story that has haunted me for years) and “Tam Lin” (which I was less familiar with). When it comes to retellings, it can be difficult to process and repackage a popular, oft-retold story and still produce something fresh, which is why I think the combination of these three fairy tale storylines is one of ACOTAR’s greatest strengths. 


Feyre.

For whatever reason, I came into the story not expecting to relate to or appreciate Feyre all that much. I think this partially had to do with the fact that I knew ACOTAR is a romance (and if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that romance is usually a miss for me). But Feyre’s combination of tough and soft won me over. 

She sacrifices so much of her time and energy to support her family, which did remind me an awful lot of Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES. Despite the similarities, though, Feyre is still her own character. She is practical, yet artistic, and she somehow finds a way to balance these two aspects of her personality. It can be so easy to see art as non-essential, the first thing to go when life gets hard, and I loved that it doesn’t get displaced in the face of Feyre’s abject poverty—that it’s recognized as a part of who she is. Also, I love that her relationship with painting mirrors her emotional state throughout ACOTAR and ACOMAF. 


Confession time.

Every time a book description mentions fairies/the fae, I find myself losing interest, even though I love books like THE PECULIAR and THRONE OF GLASS. I’m not really sure why this happens, it just does, and I almost skipped out on ACOTAR because it’s a) a romance and b) a book that heavily features the fae. However, I ended ACOTAR feeling more favorable to books of it’s ilk. I consider that a win. 


Content warning.

There is some sexual content, and I am squeamish, so that accounts for the dropped star. 


In Conclusion. 

I’m sad that I didn’t review this book right after reading it because, now that a fair amount of time has passed, my memory has gotten a bit vague on some of the nuances I wanted to discuss. The busier I get with writing, the more I find myself forgetting small details, like my name, or a book’s storyline, so I can’t give you as well-informed a recommendation as I had hoped. But I do remember that I very much enjoyed ACOTAR (especially the ending), and I will eventually want to reread it. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES? Will I ever spell “thorns” correctly on the first try? (No. Because I always type “throns.” Don’t ask me why.) What are some of your favorite fairytale retellings? Have you read CRUEL BEAUTY/do you recommend it?