Monday, October 31, 2016

Life Update #5 // In Which I Can't Focus Because NaNoWriMo is Tomorrow


Well, my coffee beans, I’m going to keep this update short, because I am far too excited about NaNoWriMo to talk about my life. 

In case you hadn’t noticed, people, we have only one more sleep until NaNoWriMo! *flails* 



Life News


Aside from anxiety, work has been going well. I enjoy cleaning my church, and I enjoy earning money and buying books. This makes for a great arrangement. 

I’m sure other interesting things have happened in my life over the past few months, but why talk about the past when we could talk about how NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow? *flings confetti* If you missed my NaNo Prep posts, you can find them here, here, and here


Writing News


At long last, I finished a draft of DRACONIAN and managed to take a brief writing vacation, which turned out to be less restful than I had hoped. However, I believe I am on track to finish DRACONIAN by the end of January or I will run my Mac through the shredder. In the meantime, I am really looking forward to NaNoWriMo, because I can cheat on DRACONIAN with multiple other books and get a palate cleanse of sorts. 

Ahem. 

I also started a spreadsheet with all my bookish projects on it, including unwritten book ideas, and set tentative deadlines for several novels. After NaNoWriMo, I will be sure to give you a more solid idea of what I plan to work on next writing year (because, for me, NaNoWriMo ushers in the writing new year). 


Blogging News


I wrote and edited all my blog posts through to the end of November, so I won’t have to worry about blogging eating into my word count. *high fives self* Also, I got a few more followers. Welcome! *hands out coffee beans* 

Here were my top five most popular blog posts from September and October: 







Reading News


September was a good reading month. But in October I didn’t feel like listening to audiobooks at work, and I spent extra time editing blog posts and organizing my hard drive in preparation for NaNoWriMo, which left me less time to read. 

Here are my reading stats: 


Number of books read so far this year

166

Number of books read over the past two months

31

Number of books read in September

24

Number of books read in October

7


Bookish Highlights



Bookish Ratings breakdown

Five stars

15


Four stars

8


Three stars

6


Two stars

2


Other stats

Rereads in the past two months

11

Rereads so far this year

33

Now that I’ve got this update out of the way, I can go back to bouncing off the walls in anticipation of NaNoWriMo. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? How have you been over the past two months? Have you read any good books? Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly // My Scary Best Friend

Note: Today I break from NaNoWriMo madness to bring you one last book review before November hits me like a confused airplane.


Rating: Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

Ever since I first heard about this book, even before it came out, I’d been dying to read it. Scratch that, ever since I first saw the cover, even before I read the summary, I’d been dying to read THE SACRED LIES OF MINNNOW BLY. Let’s just pause for a moment to appreciate how well-designed this cover is. I didn’t need to read the cover copy before I knew the story featured some sort of cult. But more importantly, the way the design focuses predominantly on the hands is absolutely beautiful, considering the fact that Minnow doesn’t have any hands. It’s like this cover did all the work for me. It let me know hands were going to be a MAJOR theme (which they are), and the formatting for the title made me look at exactly what that title is saying about Minnow’s mental state. 

I could go on for an absurdly long amount of time discussing the cover, but I will spare you that, at least for the present. So let’s talk about the book itself, shall we?

The Story. The Kevinian cult took Minnow’s childhood and her hands. Now that the Community has burned to the ground, and now that the police have found the Prophet Kevin’s body in the rubble, it is clear that Minnow knows something about what happened. Thrown into juvie for nearly beating a boy to death, Minnow keeps her deepest, darkest secrets to herself. But when the FBI detective assigned to her case offers her early freedom in exchange for information, Minnow must decide whether to face her past or embrace it. 

The Writing. I see first person present point of view used a lot, and I can tend to get a little tired of it, because I feel like some writers use it without really knowing how to use it. (Wow, that sounds rather arrogant. For shame, Liz. For shame.) It’s one of those writing styles that really really really lends itself to choppiness if you’re not careful (a problem I’ve noticed especially in the DIVERGENT trilogy). So right away, I was shocked by how good this usage of FPPPOV (we’re going to call it that for short) is. Stephanie Oaks’ style is lyrical and beautiful—some of the most poetic prose I’ve ever read. As I was reading, I didn’t have a single moment where I stopped to think that maybe I would have worded something differently, which is saying a lot, since I can be a rather critical reader. (I don't think I've been as impressed by a writing style since IMAGINARY GIRLS.)

Minnow. As someone who has spent the past couple years working through lies I have taught myself (and been taught) and false guilt I have taken as my own, I really related to Minnow’s struggle to unlearn all the things her cult had forced her to believe about life. Minnow isn’t soft or sweet or especially naive. Rather, she is smart and strong and more capable than she realizes. I can’t even put into words how much I love her character (and Angel’s), or even why I love it so much, just that I absolutely adored being inside her head, experiencing the space she has created in her mind and the inner freedom she has always cherished despite the restraints of her cult. In the face of incredible loss and pain, Minnow proves herself resilient. 

The Cult. I love literature and songs about cults. Last NaNoWriMo, one of my rough drafts was actually about a woman’s efforts to unearth the remains of a decades-dead cult and figure out what happened to the single reported survivor after she went missing. I’m really excited for editing that novel next year, because it’ll give me an excuse to research cults. But it’s not like I’d ever want to join one. I think I was just exposed to the concept of mass hypnosis, so to speak, at such a young age that it left an impression on me. I’m interested in the insane, the broken, and the delusional. The people who get swept up in cults like the Kevinian Cult are just the sort of people whose minds I want to analyze and dissect (metaphorically speaking, of course *puts down scalpel*). I love that THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY gives us a chance to peek into the psychology behind the lies that keep so many people following a harmful man. I love that it shows us the damage and the desensitization that takes place when people learn to crave the perceived safety of a narrow, unforgiving world. 

The Setting. Last but not least, we have the two settings featured in this book. We have the Community, which we witness through Minnow’s memory in all its raw awfulness, and we have juvie, which seems like such a safe, enlightened place in contrast. Since I haven’t read many (or any?) books set in juvie, this was a really nice change of scenery for me. 

In Conclusion. THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY is so good—it’s beyond good. I can’t even properly express to you how good it is, because the more I talk, the more I think I’ll start to sound like I’m secretly trying to get you to join a cult. It happens. So let me just say, if you are okay with some adult elements/language and a fairly significant amount of gore, I will happily shove this book in your face. It is one of my new all-time favorites, and I think it has the potential to become one of yours.

(Also, if you are interested in more cult-related things, check out this NaNo forum. It's totally not a cult.) 


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY, and if so, what did you think? What are some excellent examples of first present POV? Do you have any recommendations for novels about cults?

Monday, October 24, 2016

NaNoWriMo Prep #3 // A Cautionary Tale


This NaNoWriMo, as you strive to write however many thousands of words you hope to manage, it helps to remember: 

You can edit later. 

I have mentioned this in previous posts, I am sure, but it bears repeating, so I’m going to say it again. And again. And again. Until it sticks in your skull as well as mine. 

You can edit later. 

I know there are authors who find they need to edit their novels as they go (Gail Carson Levine, for instance), so I am not saying ABSOLUTELY, UNEQUIVOCALLY DO NOT EDIT AS YOU WRITE. But I am saying pause. I am saying consider. NaNoWriMo, at its core, is meant to help you break free from writing ruts. It’s meant to help you rip the bandaid off and get writing done, even if it feels unnatural. Because it will. You are by no means going to come away from this with a polished novel, so don't expect to. 

Story time.

You have seen me refer to to TIB, which I drafted in November 2013, as the first rough draft I managed to finish. I have chosen to consider it this way, even though I technically—very technically—finished two books before then. That’s what we’re talking about today. 

When I was twelve, almost thirteen, I was given a writing assignment in literature class. As these things go, I started writing the story and realized it was the beginning of a trilogy. What can I say? This is typical of me. I have a collection of short story ideas, and sometimes I pick away at them, but I am always a little scared I will get a seven book series from the next one I touch. This might be why I have trust issues. 

It took me almost a year to write the sort-of-rough-draft for DSS 1 (now DRACONIAN), because I wrote it chapter by chapter, editing as I went (and also because the computer broke halfway through, resulting in several months of unexpected, unwanted writing vacation). 

Even when I was that young, my mother recognized how much I wanted to become a published author, so she tailored my curriculum around that goal. On top of all my other schoolwork, she assigned me roughly an hour of writing a day. In order to be able to give me credit for my work, she read each chapter as I finished it, then made revision notes. Essentially, she guided me through writing my first novel, which is one of the reasons I don’t count it as my first official rough draft. But more on that later. 

When I tackled DSS 2 on my own, I resuming editing as I went even though I felt like it was blocking me. And I ended up cutting it off at 40K without tying up the plot lines. After that, I only made it 18K into DSS 3 before hitting a wall. 

In late 2012, I decided to attack DSS, to write a new rough draft of the entire trilogy using the original work like an outline, because I thought that would help me figure out what was blocking me. I made it about 50K in before I hit another wall. I would edit a portion, only to realize I needed to go back and reedit that section as the story evolved beneath my fingers. An editing session that felt successful one day would seem slapdash the next. It killed my writing mojo. 

Come November 2013, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo with a new novel, a palate cleanse of sorts. I was nervous, because I didn't know if I would even be able to make the 50K, or if I would manage to write anything worthwhile. To my surprise, I ended the month with an entire trilogy (which I later cut down and consolidated into one novel, TIB). It was the most freeing thing to realize that I could power through rough drafts without getting bogged down by edits, that I could finish a project without spending forever backtracking. 

By the time November 2014 rolled around, DSS was starting to nag at the back of my head again, big time. Because it wanted to be finished. By golly, it demanded to be finished. So I picked up where I had left off and wrote the rest of the entire trilogy, a whole new rough draft, red and raw and not at all polished. Just word vomit on the page. And man it was horrible. And man it was the best thing that could ever have happened to that story. No more ripping the carpet out from under my feet. Just forward motion, like a truck plowing through a hoard of zombies. 

All told, I have been working on this trilogy since December 2009. For those of you who aren’t so good at math, that is almost seven years. SEVEN YEARS. My goodness, no wonder I feel like I’m going insane. 

It has taught me so much. Patience. Confidence and tough love. Technique. How to hide a body. (What? How did that get in there?) But the biggest thing it has taught me is the importance of maintaining momentum, of finishing a thing before I start judging it. I don’t regret the help I received while writing DSS 1. I needed that. But the point I’m trying to make here is that I wasted several of those seven years trying to force myself to use a system I knew was no longer working for me, to the point where I risked editing DRACONIAN to death (and this is coming from someone who likes editing). That is why I consider TIB my first official rough draft, because it was the first draft I completed without backtracking and getting lost along the way. It was the turning point, the place where I realized I could actually do this writing thing. That is why I love NaNoWriMo more than is probably healthy. 

So this November, as you plunge into NaNoWriMo full speed ahead, please remember this. Remember to lock your inner editor up in a cage full of disgruntled chipmunks until you are ready to sign over control once more. You can do this without the red pen. I believe in you. Be free this month. Be messy. Be brave. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you struggled with the urge to edit as you write? What are some of your regrets in your writing journey? What are some things you feel you’ve done right?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

NaNoWriMo Prep #2 // Some Questionable Advice


Now that NaNoWriMo is literally just around the corner (no, I am not freaking out—you’re freaking out), it’s time to talk about last-minute prep. Various people have asked me to share my secrets for productivity in November, and I have shared a little before, but I figured I would cover it a bit more. If this doesn’t help you, well then, at least I’ve gathered my thoughts for myself. 

Before you jump into these tips, please keep in mind that they are more geared toward those willing to throw caution and good sense to the wind in the interest of going beyond the 50K. And because this advice comes from my personal experience, what works for me may not work for you. (Translation: If your hands fall off mid-month, please don’t sue me.) 

Dedication. Whatever your goal is, reaching it has to be the thing you want more than anything else. It has to be the thing that you choose over movies and books and other distractions nine times out of ten. You have to decide ahead of time what your level of commitment is going to be, and then you need to stick to that. It’s okay to decide that you need to bow out, but try not to decide that on day three. The first week can be especially daunting, and your mind is going to be thinking of all the reasons to quit. My recommendation is to quit only if you begin experiencing health issues (both mental or physical) and are worried that pushing yourself any harder will cause you long-term damage. Most importantly, learn to enjoy the struggle and the strain, because overachieving will not be a cakewalk. 

Rewards. If you’re reward-oriented, make sure that you set up a reward system ahead of time and, if at all possible, put someone else in charge of that system so you can have a level of accountability. In all honesty, I haven’t had huge success using any reward systems in the past, because I’m not a hugely reward-oriented person. Or rather, my reward is the writing itself. But I also know that if I let myself place a massive book order for every 100,000 words I write, well dang, I’d be at 3,000,000 before you could say, “I think Liz’s laptop just burst into flames.” 

Writing Music. If you listen to music while writing, it might be a good idea to compile your playlists ahead of time. I know that, at least from my experience, it’s far too easy to spend tons of valuable writing time looking for the perfect writing song. Don’t do that. It’s secret procrastination, and you will end up hating yourself. 

Writing Cues. In a similar vein, it’s really important to have some writing cues in place before November begins—things that will let your brain know it’s time to focus on writing. If you’re an intake learner like me, it helps to have a specific drink (in my case, coffee) or a snack that you only grab when you’re ready to write. The flavors and smells will help your brain get into writing mode. If you’re an auditory person (also like me), it helps to have specific music or white noise that you only listen to while writing. And if you have a specific location where you are consistently more productive (coffee shops and church for me), try to make sure you end up there as often as possible. 

But make sure—MAKE SURE—that you only use these cues when you are intending to sit down and focus on writing. As tempting as it might be, you can’t let yourself cave and use your writing cues while procrastinating or doing chores or whatever. They will lose their golden touch if you do. But if you keep them sacred, they are likely to help even when you’re in a writing slump. Simple behavioral conditioning, folks. 

Procrastination Game Plan. Yes, I did just say that. You are going to need to take breaks, especially if you are planning to go whole hog this November. But if you don’t plan your break activities ahead of time, your quick three-minute jaunt on Twitter could turn into a three-hour full-emersion social studies experience. And valuable learning aside, you are going to hate yourself. Make sure you have some protocols in place so that doesn’t happen, because you need to make sure your breaks don’t leave your discouraged. Your breaks are there to sharpen you and prepare you for another bout of writing, so approach them accordingly. 

For those of you who write on a computer, like me, consider taking a break from anything screen-related when you take your writing breaks. Eye strain is a real problem when you’re logging the hours to get all the words written. Don’t make this harder for yourself by scrolling through your Twitter feed between word sprints. Movies and TV shows are fine, because you’re not stressing your eye muscles quite so much, but try to keep your face a couple feet away from the screen. Also, be sure to get plenty of fresh air and exercise so your brain doesn’t turn into a bag of stale potato chips. If your phone takes dictation, maybe go on a walk and talk out some of your story. 

Have a system in place. Set timers for yourself and respect them when they go off, even if you have to drag yourself kicking and screaming back to your writing seat. 

If you’re having trouble thinking of non-social-media-related breaks, here is a handy dandy list of suggestions: 

Read. Mosey on over to the kitchen and make coffee. And because moderation is not a thing we embrace during NaNoWriMo, just give in and drink straight from the coffee pot. You know you want to. Pick flowers. Pet an animal. Talk to the animal. When I had rats, I would discuss major plot points with them and verbally untangle my story issues. (But maybe choose a kinder animal, like a puppy or a lizard. Rats can be harsh critics. They require perfection and thus are better to consult during the editing stages.) Clean up the disemboweled mouse the cat left on the patio….again. Climb a tree. Fall out of said tree. Enjoy your first ambulance ride and hospital stay. Make sure to take notes and incorporate this into your story. Go out to eat, or better yet, try a challenging, new recipe at home. Braid your cat’s hair. Treat the thousands of scratches on your arms. Clean things. Play with mud. Get into the spirit of autumn. Eat a leaf and put pumpkins on your hands. Terrorize the neighbors. Enjoy learning firsthand about police procedure and holding cells. Have fun. 

Most Importantly—Log the Hours. I know this seems obvious, but it’s the one that gets short-changed the most. When you’re writing large chunks of words, it’s so easy to get overexcited and take more breaks than you should. It’s also too easy to assume that you will always be writing at peak speed. Don’t. Set yourself a schedule, and when the schedule says write, you write. (You can find my schedule for last year in this post.) Those who wrote 3,000,000 last year logged about 19-23 hours a day. In other words, you have to put in the time. The words will not magically appear on your document overnight.

I don’t know—I feel like I give the wrong impression that this is easy, and I know that I type quickly, but like I said, this is not a cakewalk. I repeat, this is not a cakewalk. So please don’t come into this expecting a cakewalk, because if you do, you will end up quitting. (And by all means, if you hit a wall and you need someone to light a fire under your butt, shoot me a message, and I will yell at you—nicely—until you start writing again. You can find my contact form on the sidebar.) 

Some Final Words. Now that you’ve read all my extremely serious advice, please keep a couple caveats in mind. If you aim to overachieve as much as I do, and if you’re like me, you will experience guilt about making Wrimos who are writing less feel bad. You will want to share you successes with people, because you are excited, but keep in mind that people won’t always be nice about it. You will sometimes inadvertently discourage people or make them jealous.

With regards to my word count, please keep in mind that I have a high pain tolerance and a relatively low regard for my own health when it comes to competition. I will write until I can’t physically move my fingers well enough to type. I will be using wrist braces this year, but I haven’t in the past, and I am paying for that now. Don’t always do as I do unless you are willing to accept the health consequences that come with. 

In Summary. If you’re planning to overachieve this year, ready yourself for the worst and hope for the best. (And take all my advice with a grain of salt.) Remember that this is a marathon. If you lose sight of the finish line, the race will become grueling and unbearable. You will spend most of the time feeling like you’re about to vomit up your lungs. But if you don’t quit halfway through, you will thank yourself come December. So run. 

Because I’m coming for you.

What?


Well, that’s it for today, my little coffee beans. What are some pieces of writing/NaNoWriMo advice that you’ve benefited from? Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this month? What are your favorite ways to procrastinate? Do you also struggle with avoiding the fascinating productivity-black-hole that is Twitter?

Monday, October 17, 2016

NaNoWriMo Prep #1 // Pterodactyl Screeches


As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, Pumpkin Spice has returned in full force, along with all the other seasonal flavors. The cooler air smells like nostalgia. Those saddled with raking leaves are cursing the season. We all know what this means. NaNoWriMo is just around the bend. 

Quick, everybody panic! 

Remain calm, is what I meant to say. Stupid autocorrect. 

Everything is going to be just fine. There is absolutely nothing to worry about this National Novel Writing Month. Please ignore the v-shaped arrangements of muse fairies migrating to warmer climates. Who needs those anyway? 

This will be my fourth NaNoWriMo, and I’m hoping it will be my best one yet. Obviously this might not happen, since I have to work Fridays to Sundays. But I managed to do pretty well last year, and I spent the first week of November packing and moving from Maine to Virginia. 

Here are my stats from the previous years:


2013



2014

 


2015

 

So let’s talk goals.

This November, I hope to write anywhere from 444,444 to 800,000 words. I realize this is a rather wide range. If you’ve spent much time on the NaNoWriMo forums (especially the Overachiever Section), you’ll know that Wrimos like to set three separate goals: a minimum, an aim, and a dream goal. 

These are what mine look like: 

Minimum: 444,444, because I don’t want to write anything less than I did last year. If I can't one-up myself, then what's the point, I ask you. 

Aim: 500,005. If I manage my time well, take care of myself, and drink enough coffee, this should be doable. I’ve found each NaNoWriMo I’ve been able to write more than I did the previous November, even though I’ve had more going on each time around, so 500,005 ought to be a reasonable goal for me. I certainly have enough stories planned. 

Dream: 800,008. I really want to make my dream goal 1,000,001, but I know that I shouldn’t. Not this year. I already have wrist issues from writing and Karate, and I need to make sure I can still at least move my fingers so I can do my custodial job. (I don’t currently own any wrist braces, but methinks I should look into buying a couple.) Anyway, 800,008 is a pretty number, and it’s still quite the challenge. I don’t need to try to do the million this year. *gazes sadly at the two Wrimos who wrote three million each last year* *single tear slides down cheek as camera zooms in dramatically* 

In case you haven’t already noticed, I am a teeny, tiny bit competitive. Because I like to hang out on the OA forums, I see all the overachievers who are doing as much as me or more. Granted, there is no reason to feel bad about my wordcount, no matter what it is, just as there is no reason for you to feel bad about yours, but when I see someone going for the Mill, I’m like a dog spotting a running rabbit. I have to chase it. It’s in my nature. 

Last year my daily average was 14,814 words. To get to 500,005, I just need to up that to 16,667, which is within spitting distance. However, if I want to reach 800,008, I’ll need to pull 26,667 a day, which will be rather more challenging. Typically my wrists start seizing up after 20K, and I’ve never done more than 35.6K in a day. Speaking of never doing more than 35.6K in a day, one of my smaller goals for this month is to write 50K in a day. Maybe not 50K on day one, because I want to ease my wrists into this, but hopefully by the midway point at the latest. In 2014, my record for words written in a day was 30K, so I know that I’m at least capable of beating my previous year’s record. 

So many numbers! Typically I don’t math. But when it comes to NaNoWriMo, you can betcha I’m making charts and getting a little crazy with the division and the multiplication. I might even take it a step further and get into addition, but probably not. I’m not that insane. Maybe I’ll relegate that to Siri, now that I have her on my Mac. 

At this point, you might be wondering what I’m going to work on this year. Well, I can’t give you too many details, since I have a long list of book ideas, and I never know exactly which ones I’ll end up tackling. But my priorities are a villain prequel to DRACONIAN, a random just-for-fun sequel to TIME IN A BOTTLE (since TIB is a stand-alone with series potential), an apocalyptic story (also just for fun), the third book in a literary trilogy I started in NaNoWriMo 2014 (I wrote the second book in NaNoWriMo 2015), a ghost story, and a Scottish Romance. The Scottish Romance (that’s totally been the stand-in title for years), was outlined as a challenge when my sister and a couple friends of mine (and me, of course) joked about each writing Scottish Romances. And even though I’m not a fan of romance, at all, I enjoyed researching Scotland and thinking about ways to make this romance as unromantic as possible. So far the outline includes a couple murders, a mad person, some broken bones, William Wallace, and betrayal. It’s been nagging at the back of my head for ages, because I really am curious to see how it will turn out. I guess I might as well write the silly thing and get it over with. (Let it be noted that I am a panster, so the fact that I was able to outline this at all is a miracle in and of itself.) 

Over all, I’ve been sitting on these ideas for longer than most of the others on my list, so I’m more confident jumping into them, but I do have fifteen decently-fleshed out ideas to fall back on if I need more material. 

I know that the wonders of editing have made me sound relatively composed and relaxed in this post, but let me tell you, I am way more excited than you’d think. I’m not even halfway through my cup of coffee, and my hands are already shaking so badly I’m having trouble typing things correctly. Also, I keep accidentally ending up on the NaNo Forums. I AM SO EXCITED. I don’t care how much work I have to do between now and then (okay, I care a little). I want it to be November now. *slams coffee cup on table* 


*bashes head against keyboard* 

A;sdjfa;lskdfjal;skdfj;alskdjfa;lsdkjf;alskdjf;alsdfja;lsdkfj;asldkfj;asldkfj;aslkdjf;asldfja;sldkfjas;ldfkja;sldfkjas;ldfkjas;dlkfjas;ldfjas;ldfjas;ldfjasd;lfjas;ldkfjalsk;djfa;lsdkfj

I am calm. 

Oh, and a few random, small observations before I leave you: I have two laptops. They have names. I have Adele 3.0, my MacBook Air, which I use most of the time. And I have Adele 2.0, which is a Dell. *laughs for an awkwardly long amount of time* (In case you’re curious, Adele 1.0 was an HP. I’m not entirely corny. It's a complete coincidence that Adele 2.0 is a Dell. She was a gift from my uncle.) Adele 3.0 doesn’t have an internal DVD player, and I haven’t taken the plunge and purchased an external one yet, so I use Adele 2.0 when I need to watch DVDs instead of Netflix. This is somewhat problematic for me. Adele 2.0 is large—about 16-17 inches diagonally. When I decided to switch to an 11.6 inch Mac, I was concerned about the keyboard being cramped. Of course, when I got the Mac, I adjusted to it with no trouble. It fits my hands like a glove. (Please don’t hit me.) Now when I have to use Adele 2.0, the keyboard is so freaking huge, I don’t know what to do with my fingers because they are not hitting all the keys. Also, it strikes me as weird that I had no trouble switching to Mac, but every time I use my PC, I literally don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I can’t even scroll on the first try. WHAT IS HAPPENING. 

Anyway, all that to say, the J key and the Z key (and sometimes the K key) tend to fall off my Mac keyboard, because I type violently. They’re really easy to snap back on, but I am slightly worried that by the end of the month all the keys will have fallen off and gotten lost and I will have to resort to typing on a keyboard made for giants for the rest of my life. 

In other news, I need more coffee. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? Are you planning to participate this NaNoWriMo? What are your writing goals? What are some NaNoWriMo achievements you’re proud of? What projects are you hoping to work on this November? Do you have any concerns for this month?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Zombie Apocalypse Tag


A little while ago, the esteemed Alexa @ Summer Snowflakes tagged me for the Zombie Apocalypse Tag, which is exciting, because I’m zombie trash. Thank you, Alexa! 

The Rules 

Pick five books—favorites or random, but make sure you know the characters. (I’m cheating on this one, because I couldn’t narrow it down to just five books. So I’ve included two additional categories. You don’t have to do these if you don’t want to.) 

Write the names of the books on strips of paper. 

Draw one piece randomly for it to be your book/choice. 

Open to a random page and use the first name you see to answer question #1. 

Use the same book for question #2, but turn to a different page. 

Repeat steps 2-5 till you’ve answered all the questions.


DIVERGENT


First person to die // Christina

It seems rather unlikely that this would be the case. Maybe we’re talking about pre-initiation Christina here? Or maybe she only pretends to die. Because reasons. 


The Person you trip to get away from the zombies // Uriah

Well as they say, all’s fair in love and the zombie apocalypse. Sorry, Uriah. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that I don’t fancy getting eaten alive, and I guess you were in my way. I’m sure you understand. 


SENSE AND SENSIBILITY


The first person to turn into a zombie // Edward

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Despite his many good qualities, he doesn’t strike me as the most robust, outdoorsy person ever. He’s such a proper guy, he probably ends up getting bitten by a lady zombie because he’s too gentlemanly to axe her in the face. It happens. 


The person that trips you to get away from the zombies // Colonel Brandon

Now this one I did not see coming. Was this a tactic he learned in military training? Totally unfair. I would NEVER do something like that. *discreetly shoots Uriah zombie* Never.


CINDER


The idiot of the team // Peony

I’m assuming that by calling her the idiot of the team, you’re implying she does something stupid that gets us all killed. I’d be mad, but she’s too cute. I guess we’ll just have to let this one slide. 

*forgiving zombie noises*


The brains of the team // Kai

Ha. Ahaha. Ahahahaha. 

That was me laughing. 

Okay, so Kai isn’t stupid. But he’s easily flustered and easily thrown off his game. If we’re going to be picking the brains of the team (get it, because zombies eat brains? I’m so funny), we should really go with Cinder. Because then if she gets slowed down running away from the zombies, and they end up chewing on her metal leg, she’ll be fine. 

Kai, on the other hand…


DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE


The team’s medic // Karou

Considering Karou’s job in DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT and DREAMS OF GODS AND MONSTERS, this one isn’t too far off base. This would be a great arrangement. As we all get chewed up by zombies, she can kill us before we turn, collect our souls, and make shiny new bodies for us. Personally, I would like a body with wings, so I can fly away from my undead problems. 

Someone bring me some anesthesia and a biter. 


The weapons expert // Akiva

Well, he’s got wings and military experience, so he’s not the worst guy for the job. But since he’s not too familiar with human weapons, I’m not convinced he's the best option, either. 


TWILIGHT


The Brawler // Jess

*laughs for exactly eight hours and thirty-seven minutes*

Yeah, no, not happening. She has zero skills and zero knowledge. We are literally all going to die. (But I guess Peony already saw to that.) 

Someone please get Emmett. 


The Team Captain // Jasper

See, I’d be down for that. Not only does he have an exceptionally pretty face, he’s also had military experience. This dude’s been through some rough stuff. And what WOULD happen if a zombie were to bite a vampire? This is something I really need to know. 

WOULD WE HAVE ZOMBIE VAMPIRES? IS THAT EVEN A THING? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME. *hyperventilates*


PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES


[My Addition] The one who goes insane // Mr. Bennet

See, I wouldn’t have pegged Mr. Bennet as the type who’d go insane, although the PP&Z version does seem a little more erratic. But it would be hilarious if he went insane and Mrs. Bennet started acting like a normal, rational person. I'm not complaining. 


[My Addition] The one who keeps a pet zombie (for science) // Elizabeth

Why yes, I would do that. I mean, she would do that. For science. It’s important to learn as much as possible about your opponents, so you can best know how to beat them. Maybe she could even find a cure. I applaud my Elizabeth’s sound tactics. 


And there you have it, the Zombie Apocalypse Tag. I hereby infect nominate:



What about you, my little coffee beans? Which characters would you trust in the event of the zombie apocalypse? Which characters would you trip? If the zombie apocalypse were to happen, how long do you think you'd survive, and what would be your game plan? 

Monday, October 10, 2016

WARM BODIES // I Promise, It Only LOOKS Like Necrophilia


Rating: Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)


Can we just take a moment to appreciate the UK cover for WARM BODIES? It’s simultaneously morbid and elegant, which was why I had to buy this edition. (Also, the fun part of the physical book is that the brain stem and veins on the cover are raised like mountains on a topographical map, so you can stroke them, if you’re into being super creepy like that. *whistles casually*) 

Okay, okay, moving on. 

I have a confession to make. 

I am zombie trash. 

If you’ve been my friend on Goodreads for any amount of time, then you probably already know that. (You also probably know that I’m vampire trash, but we’re not going to talk about that. Shhh.) 

I almost broke with my typical Monday/Wednesday schedule and made this a full on zombie-themed week, since I have enough material to review a zombie novel EVERY DAY, plus a fun zombie-related thing on Wednesday. If I wasn’t trying to get all my posts through to the end of November edited before October 15th, I wouldn’t hold myself back. But as it is, I already have enough on my plate without adding extra. *sad face* 

Okay, time for another confession: With WARM BODIES, I watched the movie before reading the book. *hangs head* I’d been planning to borrow the audiobook from the library, but when I saw the movie was on VidAngel, I went ahead and watched it. And I absofreakinglutely loved it. Naturally I went ahead and bought the book so I could eat the author’s brain. I mean read it…with my eyes…

*clears throat* 

Side Note: Normally I do try to read the book before watching the movie, as I am a loyal bookworm, but I also tend to be more forgiving of the movie version if I watch it ahead of time. That way I’m not distracted and annoyed by all the differences. And if I love the movie, I am more likely to be forgiving of weaknesses in the book (as with THE MAZE RUNNER, which I felt was good, but not particularly well-written). 

So lets talk a bit about WARM BODIES. 

The Writing. The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is really well-written. I kept wanting to jump up and share random quotes with my sister, even though I’m normally not the type to do that. 

The Tone. While R’s narration is primarily funny in the movie, his narration in the book is not only humorous, but surprisingly introspective and wise. 

The Main Theme. As can be expected from a zombie story, WARM BODIES deals with what it means to be human and what it means to be alive. But we’re getting this from a unique view-point, since R is a zombie. 

The Story. When R encounters Julie on a hunt, instead of eating her, he rescues her and bring her back to the airport where he lives with a collection of other zombies. As R comes to know Julie, and even care about her, he begins to realize that he is not content as a corpse—he wants to be alive. 

And honestly, as weird—and wrong—as it sounds to contemplate a zombie/human romance (because necrophilia is messed-up), I really, really advise you not to judge this book by its premise. I’ve heard a people say harsh things about WARM BODIES without even knowing what the story is really about. (The rest of this section contains spoilers, so just highlight the blank part to read the text if you don’t mind being spoiled. Also, just so you know, I'm totally stealing TT's method of hiding spoilers.) [SPOILER] If you assume WARM BODIES is about necrophilia, you’re missing the point. It’s not about falling in love with a dead body. It’s not about sex. It’s not a twisted novel about twisted peopled doing twisted things. It’s about recognizing worth and value in a mind that can’t fully express itself. It’s about dying and then coming to life, because that’s what falling in love is like. The whole point of the story is that the zombie apocalypse wasn’t started by a virus or a curse. It was started because people simply stopped living. It started because people became dead inside, and the next step was to start devouring each other and decomposing. 

As R says:

“I think we crushed ourselves down over the centuries. Buried ourselves under greed and hate and whatever other sins we could find until our souls finally hit the rock bottom of the universe. And then they scraped a hole through it, into some…darker place."

The whole point of R and Julie’s relationship is that, when R falls in love, he begins to come to life. If you get all hung up on the idea of a human falling for a zombie, you miss the whole point that this whole shocking set up was set up to make. At its core, it’s not about a human falling for a zombie or a zombie falling for a human—it’s about a zombie falling for life. [END SPOILER]

The Characters. R is one of my favorite narrators of all time. He’s a packrat, romantic zombie with a conscience. I’m not sure how much better it can get than that. 

I also really love Julie. She is smart and strong and brave and refreshingly different. She’s very much alive in her own sharp, wistful, angry way. Normally I don’t find the potential romantic interests particularly well-matched to other each other, so it’s always nice to fall for both sides of a ship. 

Then there’s M, and he’s just perfect. He’s the perfect sidekick, the perfect comic relief, and the perfect second-in-command (of sorts) to R. 

Nora is great too. She is subversive and independent, hardened yet vulnerable. Perhaps my only problem with the movie version is that, while Nora is a POC in the book, they used a white actress. Because apparently it’s impossible to find a black actress for the role. *angrily punches zombie in the face* 

The Parallel. [SPOILER] We need to talk about the whole Romeo and Juliet set up, right down to the balcony scene and the feuding families (alive people vs. zombies). Even the ending parallels ROMEO AND JULIET, since R is already dead (though coming alive) and Juliet’s brief eye color change after the kiss indicates a temporary transition to zombie status. I don't think it's meant to be a retelling of ROMEO AND JULIET, per se, but the elements are there, and I love it. [END SPOILER]

In Conclusion. I have nothing else to say. I feel like R. I have all these happy thoughts about WARM BODIES stuck in my head, but all I can do is bang the keyboard a couple hundred times in an attempt convince you of this story’s amazingness. Dlfkajsdf asdlfkjasfdk as;lfjasldfkj

As you might have gathered, it's one of my new all-time favorite books. 

Go forth. Read.


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you read WARM BODIES? Have you seen the movie? Which do you prefer? What are some of your favorite zombie novels?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

In Defense of Writing as a Job


Well, I thought I was done writing ranty posts for the time being. But apparently I was wrong, because during my blogging hiatus, I encountered a couple posts that got my blood boiling again. First, a published author wrote an article about going broke, which was problematic in its own right. Then another person responded with a problematic post claiming that you can't make a living as a writer because writing isn't a job. While I agree that many writers will still need to supplement their income (that's a different discussion altogether, and not one I'm qualified to lead), I completely disagree with the second part of that statement. So that's what we're going to talk about in this post. And if you want to read a full-time writer's response to this issue, you can find that here. (Be forewarned, some of the language in these posts is NSFW.) 

Let's talk about jobs. You can earn cash doing anything from walking dogs to staring at chicken butts all day. You can scrub toilets, fly airplanes, protect famous people, make things out of wood, mix soda flavors, or taste-test ice cream. There are literally so many types of jobs out there, it isn’t even funny. But while there is a plethora of work to be done, there are only a handful of positions that are taken seriously across the board. For instance, as Cait @ Paper Fury has so wisely pointed out, people complain about writers writing things for money all. The. Time. But those same people are not going to rag on dentists for earning a living pulling teeth and filling cavities. 

Since I only have myself as an in-depth illustration for this discussion, we’re going to talk about me. (Oh dear. It’s unseemly to burst into tears of joy like that. Restrain yourself, my child.) 

Growing up, I knew I wanted to make writing my career, if at all possible, not because I figured it would make a ton of money, but because I figured—I love doing this, why not get paid to do this all the time? Ever since little seven-year-old me learned how to write a proper story in Ivory Coast, I have spent considerable amounts of time putting words on paper and figuring out how to make those words sound better. But I was in high school when I finally decided to change my focus. Instead of writing for a future job, I decided to treat writing like it was a job I already had. I changed my writing status from hobby to responsibility

Remember, I was in high school, and since my mother (who is a certified teacher) was the one assigning my schoolwork, I had quite a lot on my plate. Over those four years, I studied Latin, French, Rhetoric, Bible, Logic, Essay Composition, Short Story Writing, Novel Writing, Literature, History, Algebra, Geometry, Biology, Marine Biology, General Science, Physics, Government, and Karate. (And let’s face it, I can’t even be sure that’s a complete list, since half the time I can’t even remember what year I graduated.) On top of that, I had household chores like cleaning bathrooms, sweeping, and washing dishes, not to mention the days I had to stack wood and shovel snow. These were all time- (and energy-) consuming things. Also, when I was sixteen and seventeen, I spent my summers working as a counselor/life guard at a camp, and even though I was on call 24/7, I spent what little free time I had doing schoolwork ahead so I would have the entirety of November off for NaNoWriMo. So when I say my plate was already full, I’m not exaggerating. No one—absolutely no one in their right and proper mind—would have blamed me for using my free time for more relaxing pursuits, like reading, or digging out my eyes with a blunt object. 

However, because I knew that I wanted to work as a published author more than anything else, I decided that, on top of all my obligations, I was going to log the hours and make sure I did my best to make that happen as soon as possible. 

For my junior and senior years especially, I began waking up at 4:00 in the morning so I would have time to get some writing done before starting my schoolwork at 6:30. (I started schoolwork that early because I wanted to finish it in time to take advantage of prime afternoon writing hours.) At about 1:30, I would make coffee and dive into writing until supper (at about 6:30). Following supper, if I had time, I would run upstairs and write until bedtime, at which point I would read for a while and then sleep for six to seven hours, only to pop out of bed and do the same thing every. Single. Week day. On Fridays, I would watch Star Trek and Doctor Who in the evenings before writing late into the night. On Saturdays I would let myself sleep in, but then I would spend as much time writing as I could. Usually I tried to reserve Sundays for resting, but I am bad at taking breaks, so sometimes I would write more in the times between church and youth group. 

And guess what came from all that determination. 

I edited one-and-a-half novels, queried agents for one novel and received some interest, and wrote over 600,000 words in rough drafts (about ten different books). This isn’t even counting all the papers I had to write for school. 

After I finished editing TIME IN A BOTTLE and sent out my query letters, I added up all the time I’d spent working on that project alone, and the end result came to about 1000 hours. 1000 hours of sitting in my armchair or in bed, drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee, slowly whittling away at the structural integrity of my wrists. I can guarantee you that at least 750 of those hours I wanted to be doing anything else. 

That is not nothing. 

That is not a hobby. 

Nowadays I typically let myself sleep for a full seven hours a night if I can manage it, and I get up at 5:00 in the morning instead of 4:00 (five days out of seven). I work Fridays through Sundays at my custodial job. After work on Fridays I go right to Starbucks and write there for three to four hours. When I get home from work on Saturdays, I try to push myself to write for at least a couple hours before going to bed. 

Of course, I am a little nicer to myself, now that I don’t have school on top of everything else, so I usually let myself have two to three hours of reading time a day. I also like to spend time with our landlord’s dog, because there is nothing like hugging a big, fluffy, overgrown puppy. But aside from work and church, I don’t get out much. 

Yes, I am not getting paid at the moment. But eventually I will get paid for the work I am doing now. So it’s a job. I do it when it’s hard. I do it every day even when I want to stay in bed. I do it because stories, like surgeries, benefit the world. I do it because I have to log the hours before I can get paid. 

To those who say what I do is not a job, I say excuse your butt. You do not want to see my under-eye circles. You do not know how much I want to fight someone every morning when I haul myself out of bed. You do not understanding how tempting it can be to accidentally put my laptops in the dishwasher so I don’t have to write another word. The fact of the matter is, art does not get enough respect. People are happy to buy paintings and watch movies, but so many people are just as happy to download music and books without paying. Because to them, artists (aside from the major bestsellers) are not worth supporting, are not worth paying, are not worth feeding. Our efforts go unrecognized. Our work gets downplayed to hobby status, our careers made to look like lazy lives. 

A hobby is something you do because you enjoy doing it and because it helps you unwind. You do not need to take vacations from your hobby. Your hobby does not sometimes make you cry. It does not force you to face and overcome your crippling self doubt on a daily basis. It does not make you want to sleep for a year. Hobbies are not things you procrastinate from and avoid. They are what you do to procrastinate

So don’t ever say that writing is not a job, that it is not work. Do not test me. I have two laptops full of novels, and I will take them out of the dishwasher and smack you with them. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some of your arguments in defense of writing as a job? Did you read Chuck Wendig’s response post? What are your thoughts on the post that started this all? 

Monday, October 3, 2016

An Update (of Sorts)



I had a book review drafted for today, and all I had to do was edit, post, and bam! Time saved. But when I sat down to edit, I found I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Because apparently my brain wants to talk about something else right now, even though Mondays are supposed to be for book reviews. 

So naturally, I had to start at square one. Thank you, brain. I love you so much. I hope you choke on your coffee. 

*grumbles* 

During my blogging hiatus, I didn’t get caught up on answering comments like I had hoped to, but I did manage to finish my next-to-last draft of DRACONIAN with time to spare. (In other words, the next round of edits will be mostly focused on catching typos and grammar/punctuation mess-ups. I feel about as qualified for this process as a beaver. Excuse me while I chew up my manuscript and build a house with its goopy remains.) After work on Friday, I sat at Starbucks for four hours and drafted all but two of the posts I expect to need for October and November. I plan to prioritize editing all of those, writing extra posts, commenting on blogs, and answering comments and emails. After that, I intend to polish DRACONIAN, edit my query letter and personalize it to each agent, and write the synopsis for DRACONIAN, before switching gears and finalizing my plans/goals for NaNoWriMo. *hyperventilates* 

I would really appreciate your prayers. There’s so much work I want/need to get done, and because I’m always exhausted (especially if I get more than seven hours of sleep a night), it can be difficult to gauge when I need to push myself and when I need to rest. And when I do take breaks, I turn into a sad, purposeless potato. Case in point: Last week I decided to reward myself with my first official vacation from writing this year. I had planned to ditch my schedule, read all the books, and watch all the Star Trek. But I ended up letting myself sleep in a ton and take lots of naps, which was a mistake, because then I ended up too tired to do much of anything else. Like I said, I don't benefit from getting extra sleep. Not only does it worsen my fatigue, but it also gives me joint pain, so that's fun. Unfortunately, I like sleeping, and Tired Brain likes to forget that sleep doesn’t fix things. 

All that to say, I took a vacation and ended up more discouraged than rested. More and more, I’m finding that when I don’t have a writing work-load, I don’t have anything my brain considers worth waking up for. Now that I’m back to work, my attitude is better. But I’m still tired. All. The. Time. And even though this has been a thing for about six years, it’s still difficult to push myself to get up every morning and sit my butt down in front of my laptop, especially since I have yet to see any money for my efforts in this field. 

I don’t want to complain, because I really am blessed. Even though it takes more energy from me than I feel I can spare, I’m glad to have a job on the weekends. It’s been rewarding to be able to place absurdly large book orders and help my sister with the bills. 

In case you thought I was exaggerating. 
And there’s another, slightly smaller order on the way. 
No, I do not have a problem. *eyelid twitches*

(Before you judge me, no, I am not blowing my entire paycheck on books. 
That would be irresponsible. I’m blowing less than a quarter of my monthly pay.)

(Okay, so I have a problem. Fight me.)

Even though I’m usually ready to call it a night by the time I finish my morning shower, I’m glad that I’m somehow still able to fill my weekdays with reading and writing. And even though coffee doesn’t have much of an effect on me, it’s still delicious and nostalgic, and it still manages to sharpen my mind sometimes. As long as I focus on these (and other) positive aspects, I can keep moving forward. 

However, I often get scared for my future. Like, really scared. Before you ask, by all rights, I should be a healthy person. I am Lyme free. I don’t have leukemia or thyroid problems. I don’t have a brain tumor. My kidneys are fine. It’s just that I’ve only had three days in my memory where I didn’t feel exhausted before lunch. And work makes this worse. Also, I refer to the aforementioned joint pain. I don’t actually know how I managed to work for nine-and-a-half hours yesterday when half the time the pain was so bad I felt like I was going to puke. Fortunately, I only work from Friday to Sunday, so I have Monday through Thursday to recover before the next round. That’s usually enough time. But I can start to get panicky when I think about the possibility that I might never get enough money from writing to support myself, that my sister might not be able to continue helping me financially a couple years down the road, that I might have to get a labor-intensive full-time job. If I struggle now working roughly 21 hours a week, what’s it going to be like if I have to do 40 or more. To be quite frank, I don’t cry a lot, but thinking about that makes me cry, because I know my body, and I know I don’t have the energy for that. I don’t even want to think about University. These things would literally take a miracle. 

Honestly though, it’s not my job to worry about the future. My worry will not change a thing, except to drain me more. Besides, God has always taken care of my needs, and he’s not going to stop. I should focus on that instead. Despite all these little obstacles, I have so much going for me, it isn’t even funny. I’ve already been given a great writing education. I’ve already had some agent interest. I’ve already ended up with more support than I deserve. I’m still young, and there’s still time. Even if I never succeed the way I want to succeed, it will be okay. So when I inevitably start to whine on this blog, please slap me upside the head and remind me of how good I have it. 


What about you, my little coffee beans? I’m sure you all have your own daily struggles. How do you deal with them? How are you? (And be honest, I really want to know.)