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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Favorite & Least Favorite Female Protagonists

I was going to grace you all with another adventure of WEIRDO THE ALIEN, but alas I didn't have the time today. Perhaps next week. I think he may be visiting the world of Harry Potter in the next episode *snicker*. I'm open to suggestions, of course!

As I'm writing my novel with a female protagonist, I thought it would be beneficial to look at some of my favorites (and least favorites). What about her personality makes her a strong character? What makes her so likeable? Why do I relate to this person? Below are some of my favorite protagonists (in no particular order; please add your own in the comments section!). Most of these books I have read relatively recently and they are semi-fresh in my mind.

  1. Evie from Paranormalcy - Evie is a tough, snarky, witty teenager who also is caring, brave and passionate. She fights for her friends and risks her life even when there is something evil on the loose. Plus I love how sure she is of herself. Teenage girls can look to Evie as a role model (minus the whole vampire-tasing thing).
  2. Tiffany Aching from the Discworld series - I've only read two books out of the BAZILLION in Terry Pratchett's series. In THE WEE FREE MEN (which I know I've mentioned several times - sorry), Tiffany is a young girl who learns that she may be a witch. She gets involved in a magical world of monsters and tiny blue men who love to drink and fight and kick. I love Tiffany because she doesn't take any crap from anyone. She's tough, smart, logical and follows her dreams. She doesn't let anyone pull the wool over her eyes. And she's not even a teenager yet!
  3. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series - She is incredibly smart and talented, brave because it's important to keep fighting, loyal to her friends, and keeps a strong head on her shoulders. She can be emotional at times, but she's a teenage girl for cripes sake! Growing up isn't easy, especially when you're fighting the darkest wizard of all time. I love her optimism and how she is the one who keeps Harry moving forward. I'm not a big fan of how she let Harry and Ron cheat off her work all the time, but Harry had a lot on his mind (Ron was a bit of a mook, though I love him too!).
  4. Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series - She isn't a main character, but I just love her. She's so funny and starry eyed but also passionate and loyal. She dances to her own music, never letting anyone or anything get her down, even when the other kids steal all her shoes. She always sees the good side, the silver lining. Plus she's incredibly brave (or maybe she just doesn't realize the danger of some situations).

Here are some female protagonists that are my least favorite, though I still enjoyed the books very much:

  1. Bella Swan from the Twilight series - I think many people will agree that Bella is a whiney mess most of the time. She's so obsessed with Edward that she alienates herself from her father and her new friends. She has an unnatural passion for Edward and I find it hard to believe. Though, I am a big fan of the books and movies. I'm not sure the exact reason why I like these stories so much, because it's certainly not Bella. I can't relate to her. I think I relate to Jacob better. Maybe it's just the excitement of being in love with a vampire and all the danger that comes with it, plus the werewolves are cool.
  2. Elana Gilbert from the Vampire Diaries - I liked these books too (and I swear I'm not trying to bash the vampire girls), but Elana is WAY too perfect. She's all blonde and popular and gorgeous, plus she gets the dreamy guy and has awesome friends. And to top it off, she has a heart of gold. Barf! Again, I loved reading these books but more for the storyline than for the characters. Damon is probably my favorite, and I don't normally like the bad boys!
  3. Mistaya Holiday from A Princess of Landover - The Landover series is fun. In case you haven't heard of it, it's about a man who buys a magical kingdom out of a fancy mail-order catalog. He doesn't think it could possibly be real, but he takes a chance and finds out is IS real and he is now the king. The book about Mistaya is several books later after Ben (the king) has a daughter. Mistaya is a selfish brat. Granted, she's a teenager and many teenagers are brats, but Mistaya doesn't seem to become a better person in this book. She does a tiny, tiny bit. But I still wasn't really rooting for her at the end. I still liked the book though.

So what do the good/bad characters have in common? For the good, they all seem to be pretty comfortable in their own skin and fight for what's right. They all have their flaws, of course, but that makes them more down-to-earth. From my least favorite list, all of these characters are not relatable. I have a hard time rooting for someone who's super moody, or is too perfect, or has everything and is still a jerk.

What are some of your favorite female protagonists? What about them make them stand out in your mind?

Monday, April 18, 2011

What the French Toast?

I don't usually swear. Once in a great while, when I'm really peeved, an occasional "dammit" will slip out. There has been the rare "sh"-word as well. Other than that, all of my exclamations of frustration or anger are pretty PG. I just don't like swearing. So many people use cuss words in everyday conversation, which sounds stupid and unnecessary to me (sorry if you're one of those people). I know swear words are just words. They only have the power to hurt because we let them. But words are powerful, and some I'm just not comfortable using.

So what to do when I stub my toe, or spill water all over my papers, or lose an hour's worth of work because I forgot to hit 'save'? "Gee, that's a shame" just doesn't satisfy. I need a release. Something with a little KA-POW! and a dash of ZING!

Here are my go-to "swear" words that work just as well as the real thing, but without the guilt:

  1. Balls on a biscuit! - This is my phrase of choice lately. I don't know why; I can't remember the last time I had a biscuit. The visual is actually quite disturbing. I also say "Balls!". Bobby on Supernatural has been saying it a lot lately, so that's probably where I picked it up from.
  2. Crap! - No explanation needed.
  3. Frick! - Thanks to Elliot on Scrubs, this word is a very satisfying replacement for the other "F" word.
  4. Crimini! - When I really want to be PG, like when 'crap' is not appropriate. Another one I learned recently is "Crivens", the swear word of choice for a Nac Mac Feegle.
  5. Dang it all! - Hubs uses this a lot, and I often retort with "dang some of it". That will usually make him smile.
  6. What the heck?! - Another typical one. I think "heck" is more satisfying because it has the sharp "k" sound at the end.
  7. Shoot! - No explanation needed.

These words are effective because of the hard consonant, making them sharp and quick. Many of those terms can be enhanced with the addition of "holy" or "freakin'".

What are your alternative swear words? Heard any good ones lately?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ripping Me A New One

Yesterday, I got back my 10-page critique by the very awesome Leah Clifford, author of the YA novel A TOUCH MORTAL. (I have her book in my TBR pile, by the way!)

I didn't know exactly what to expect. My biggest fear was that she'd put a big red 'X' on each page and tell me I needed to start over. Not that I REALLY thought she'd do that, but this was my first 10 pages of my very first novel and I was so nervous!! But honestly, I really wanted her to rip it apart. Just tear it to shreds and show me all the novice mistakes I was making. I could take it. Make. It. Bleed.

She did.

And it felt ... surprisingly good. Almost therapeutic. I had gone over these pages SO many times and was to the point when my eyes couldn't focus because I'd read the same words over and over. I was just tired of this intro and wanted to keep pushing forward with the rest of the story. I felt like I was wasting precious writing time and I didn't know how to make it any better. Though I knew it needed it.

I LOVE my critique group. So much. But having a fresh set of eyes - especially from a person who has seen her own novels get ripped to shreds by her editor - pour over my work is incredibly valuable. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity this early in my writing. She crossed out unnecessary words and phrases, asked a lot of great questions and pointed out parts that didn't make sense or contradicted something else. She helped me see my writing through a reader's eyes.

Here are Leah's major critiques:
  • Show, don't tell - Instead of telling the reader what someone looks like, describe it through action. My critique group has made this comment before. This one is hard, and I know I will get better the more I write. I just need to pay more attention to that.
  • Character voice should match her age - My main character is in her thirties. Being 26 myself, I didn't want her to sound too young. I was worried it would sound like a YA novel. I guess I overcompensated and she comes across as much older. Oops!
  • Watch out for repetitive words and sentence structure - This is my achilles heel. I use "because", "and", "so" and "but" A LOT. I also use commas too much. This will be a hard habit to break. Just writing this blog post while keeping this rule in mind is proving to be a challenge! Also, I used the adjective "soft" about four times in my first few pages and had no idea. Hmm, what are some synonyms for "soft"?
  • Every scene needs a purpose - I have a scene in the beginning that I really like because it introduces my main character's best friend. I think the scene is pretty funny and I love their relationship, but really it doesn't progress the plot in any way. I'm going to try to rework it so I can keep this scene. I need to make it have a purpose. Or cut it (ouch!).
I'm letting Leah's comments simmer for a while before I go back and edit. I might even wait until I get further into my WiP so I can use these lessons as I move forward. Once I've practiced and gotten more skilled, I'll attack the dreaded intro again. I just don't feel like I'm ready yet.

Have you had any really good critiques that ripped you a new one? What major lessons did you learn?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fury of the Phoenix Release Party

Last Saturday, I went to the very awesome Cindy Pon's release party at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore for FURY OF THE PHOENIX, the sequel to her debut novel SILVER PHOENIX. I attended with two of my amazing critique partners and fellow San Diego writers, Taryn Tyler and K. Marie Criddle. Plus, Lisa Ritter Cannon from YA Know was there but we just missed each other!

Here is the description of FURY from Amazon, in case you are not familiar with the series (in which case go to Amazon and buy it; go now!).

The Gods have abandoned Ai Ling.

Her mysterious power haunts her day and night, and she leaves home—with just the moon as her guide—overwhelmed by her memories and visions and an unbearable sense of dread. For Ai Ling knows that Chen Yong is vulnerable to corrupt enchantments from the under-world. How can she do nothing when she has the skill and power to fight at his side? A dream has told her where he is, the name of the ship he is traveling on, his destination. So she steals off and stows away on board.

The ocean voyage brings with it brutal danger, haunting revelations, and new friendships, but also the premonition of a very real and terrifying threat. Zhong Ye—the powerful sorcerer whom Ai Ling believed she had vanquished in the Palace of Fragrant Dreams—is trapped in Hell, neither alive nor dead. Can he reach from beyond the grave to reunite with Silver Phoenix and destroy Chen Yong? And destroy whatever chance Ai Ling has at happiness, at love?

In this sequel to the acclaimed novel Silver Phoenix, four lives are woven together and four destinies become one, now and forever.

Sounds awesome, right? RIGHT?! I thought so.

Cindy was joined at the party by seasoned author Nancy Holder, who writes YA horror novels. Her latest is SCREAMING SEASON. Nancy described her typical day of writing horror novels and I thought it was rather funny. She starts each day by watching a scary movie, and then she writes while she's so scared that she's afraid to walk around her house by herself. It helps her get in the right mood, ha ha.

On the signing table is a diorama by a SUPER AWESOME writer and my BFF, LT Host. She made it to win a contest and, of course, she won. This diorama depicts the Gardens of the Golden Palace, which is a setting in SILVER PHOENIX. (Go to the link to see close-up photos on LT Host's blog.)

On the left is Nancy, and on the right is Cindy as they begin their presentation.

Here is Cindy reading a passage from FURY OF THE PHOENIX. (I'm not sure what the "Damn Skippy" sticker is for, LOL.)

 And here I am with Cindy, holding the books she just signed. She looks gorgeous in her Betsey Johnson dress! (Obviously I was NOT dressed up.)

Cindy also treated us to some fabulous treats by Extraordinary Desserts. The chocolate one I tasted had flakes of pure gold! Super fancy.

Although this novel concludes the story of Ai Ling and Chen Yong, Cindy hinted at some other projects she has in the works. I can't wait to see what's next!


Friday, April 8, 2011

So Many Good Books, So Little Time

Buy on Amazon
I have a pretty daunting "To Be Read" pile (OK, it's a bookcase ... see pic below). The other day I finally finished reading THE WEE FREE MEN by Terry Pratchett, which is an awesome and hilarious book by the way! (Also, I just saw that it might be made into a movie - squee!) Once I was finished, I had to pick a new book to read.

My eyes skimmed the titles that I acquired in January at the ALA Conference in San Diego, plus several others that I just hadn't gotten around to reading yet. Was I in the mood for another fantasy? Or should I choose a light romance? Or maybe historical fiction? I had so many choices, and it took me a while to finally make a decision. (Plus I keep buying books for some reason - I should probably stop doing that.)

Buy on Amazon
My choice was inspired by what I felt would help me most on my WiP. My novel has several elements: fantasy, romance, humor, a contemporary setting. I just introduced a love interest for my main character, so I figure reading a romance will help spark some ideas for making those first awkward moments feel genuine. I also really want the reader to feel what my character is feeling and, most importantly, stay interested.

The book I chose is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by the super awesome Stephanie Perkins. I've only read the first two chapters but I am already getting a lot of ideas. I tend to write through a scene too quickly. Stephanie takes us through the scenes more slowly, and the reader learns so much during a simple scene about Anna's first morning at a boarding school in Paris. The actual scene may only be about 30 minutes in real time, but in that time we learn about the other characters, their relationships and the conflicts just by Anna's observations in the cafeteria. And we get those first few awkward moments - yay!

When I'm writing, it's like there's a movie playing in my head and I'm writing down what I see. Perhaps my scenes feel too quick because I just don't want to hit "rewind" and describe the scene in more detail. Maybe I'm just afraid the reader will get bored and want to get back to the action. Or maybe I just don't know how to describe the scene better to give the reader better insight into the story.

Another problem I've been having is how do you get from one main scene to the next? Do you write the scenes you know first and then go back to the filler scenes later? Or can you write straight through?

There's probably no real answer to this. You just write what comes out and/or try to plan with a detailed outline. That's why I read other books for inspiration. So far, I haven't figured out how to make the story flow naturally.

Any advice? What writing problems have you struggled and have you found ways to overcome them? What motivates you when choosing which book to read next?

Here is about HALF of my TBR pile (notice that it's two rows deep). Most of these I grabbed off the "Free ARCs" tables at the ALA Conference so I'm not sure they're my style, but a lot of them have awesome reviews and I'm excited to read them. Plus I just got a book in the mail today (A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford, who is doing my 10-page critique), and I will be buying one on Saturday when I go to Cindy Pon's FURY OF THE PHOENIX book signing. Eep!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

WiP Update & A Bunch of Randoms

I didn't have any type of epiphany this week (like the great "Geek vs. Nerd" debate, or how awesome our brains are) so I thought I'd tell you a bit more about myself. I hope I don't bore you. I have some fun stuff at the bottom. Promise!

Quick stats: I'm 26, female, married to hubs for 2 1/2 years, work in public relations and marketing, about 5'7" (no, I'm not telling you my weight), have a cat, live in San Diego county, I LOVE Disneyland, my favorite color is blue, and I've been writing since late January 2011. Nice to meet you!

Progress on my WiP
I've written 30 pages so far and created an outline. So far I've revealed a little backstory, introduced a few characters and set up some mystery. I'm wondering if I have enough conflict planned for my MC though. I don't really have a "bad guy," but just a mystery and conflicts. Do you think I should definitely have some type of villain? The genre is contemporary fantasy.

Writing has been very slow so far. My day job keeps me away until after 6pm, and then there's maybe exercising, dinner making and showering. By then it's after 8pm and I have to choose whether to write a tiny bit, read, or snuggle with hubs and watch a TV show. But it takes me a while to get back into writing mode so usually I don't get much done. I rely on weekends, Sunday afternoons in particular.

The other night I managed to fine-tune my first 10 pages and send it off to Leah Clifford, author of YA novel A Touch Mortal, because I won a critique from her on QueryTracker. Woo! I'm really excited to hear what she thinks. I'm sure she'll rip me a new one and I kind of hope she does because I need it. In just the short amount of time I've been writing, I already feel like my more recent passages are much better than the beginning. Hey, that means I'm learning already! Well, whaddya know?

Personal Stuff
My family (mom, dad and sister in particular) are big into running. I try to join them about once a week and we usually run down by the beach. Most of the time we're jogging *slash* looking for sea glass. Everyone stops when we think we find a piece. It's not the most efficient, but it's fun!

My family and I just signed up for a half marathon in June. That's 13.1 miles! Or 21.1 kilometers, which sounds a lot more impressive. This will be my second half marathon (I did one in November), my mom's first, and my dad and sister have done several. So now I'm trying to get back into shape. I managed to exercise a little every day since last Saturday (besides Sunday and yesterday, so four days total). I'm trying to stay motivated. I like yoga but cardio is more effective, and running on the treadmill at our condo's gym is BORING. Who wants to run for an hour just staring at themselves in the mirror looking all sweaty? I didn't find it very entertaining. I couldn't even entertain myself with Twitter because it made me dizzy. Do you have any exercise recommendations? I do like the free workouts on Cox On Demand in the Freezone.

Fun Stuff
I saw this on Linda Grimes' blog and thought it was funny. You know those fake words you have to type in to "verify" that you are a real person? I've been writing them down for the past week when I visit other people's blogs and came up with some definitions. See if you can think of a better one!

Myounh - Meaning "this is mine, you keep away from it"

Pormyst - A mystical adult film. Possibly with actual mist. Or vampires.

Undsongn - A song you sing to your underwear, or vice versa. *wonders what song underwear would sing* *probably Lowrider*

Eatis - The gangsta way to say "eat this, not that". Though I probably wouldn't eat something a gangsta gave me.

Rempo - A rockin' tempo.

Mibion - A cool way to say you are a minion of the amphibian king.

So what's going on in your life? Do you have any questions for me? What are your favorite things that you've seen on my blog or others so I can do more of that?