Monday, April 30, 2012

Writing Spaces: Indoor Camping

It is cold and dreary here in Chicago and we're beating the chill with some warm blankets, homemade stew, and (of course!) lots of tea.

I'm starting to get anxious for spring time and summer time and all sorts of outdoorsy activities, but with all this rain and wind, it doesn't look like I'll get my wish anytime soon.

Which is why I adore this too-sweet teepee by DIY-champ Rachel Denbow. Why go camping when you can bring camping right to your living room? I also love the Christmas-tree-light illumination, cozy quilt, and laptop. Blanket forts really are underrated...

Want to build your own?

In other news, I am busy working through my cache of library books, and it's been wonderful to speed-read through so many titles. Get ready for a slew of new reviews!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wrap Up: Puffed Pancakes Edition

It's Friday! It's Friday? Where did the week get to?!

Today's Wrap Up comes courtesy of one of my favorite meals ever: puffed pancakes with blueberry compote and fresh whipped cream.

Oh man! I make these suckers every Sunday morning for me and the husband, and it is just the best time of the week, relaxed, cozy, Meet the Press on the background, a pot of tea warming on the table. It's the best!

Last Saturday night right before bed I was bouncing up and down and when the husband asked what was going on, I said, "Puffed pancakes tomorrow!" Too. Excited. To. Sleep.

Was it just me, or was the blog-o-sphere a little light this week? In any case, it's a quick wrap-up today, but if you're interested in recreating pancake heaven, stick around and I'll post the recipes at the end.

This post seemed made for the Internet, Rachelle Gardner's How to Train Your Muse Like You Train a Puppy (puppies!)

From Publisher's Weekly, 100 books with title that begin The Man Who...

I didn't quite agree with Michael Ann Dobbs' assessment on io9 that YA dystopian fiction is like YA historical fiction, but it's a good read nonetheless

Author Mike Duran takes to Rachelle Gardner's blog to discuss whether authors should be held responsible for the things their characters say

As promised, recipes!

I got the pancake recipe from the oh-so-adorable blog Rockstar Diaries. Here's the post where she gives the recipe. I made a few changes, though. The recipe says to let the butter melt in a 9" pan while the oven is preheating (which I took to mean you stick the pan with the butter into the oven) but I found that this caused the butter to burn. Typically what I do is just grease the pan and stick it in the oven to warm. Also, the husband prefers making the pancakes in an 8" pan (they're a little thicker and more pancake rather than crepe-like); if you want to make it in the smaller pan, add 2-3 minutes to the cook time. And finally, the recipe makes just one pancake, so keep that in mind if you need to double or triple it.

For the blueberry compote (makes enough for 2-3 people):
1 cup rinsed blueberries, stems and soft berries picked out
4 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Combine half the blueberries with the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a pot over low-medium heat
Cook for 10 minutes (it should not get too bubbly)
Add the rest of the blueberries and cook for 8 minutes, stirring frequently
Serve warm
Note: if you have leftover blueberry liquid (the compote will be nice and gooey), you can keep it for sundae toppings or mix in with a little syrup to make blueberry syrup!

Fresh whipped cream is one of my favorite toppings--tastes amazing and adds a wonderful texture and elegance to the pancakes (yes, my pancakes are very elegant). Just pour some heavy cream into a bowl (I usually do about 1/2 cup) and whip the hell out of it (you can use stand mixer, too). About halfway through, add a little sugar (around a teaspoon or two), and continue beating until peaks form.

That's it! Enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing Spaces: Nabokov's Lilting, Literary Language

Happy World Book and Copyright Day!

Yes, apparently throughout Europe today, people are reading books, celebrating literature, and talking about copyright law (I guess?). Started in Spain in 1923, World Book Day falls on the anniversary of the deaths of two literary titans: William Shakespeare and Cervantes. You can read all about it (and learn how to celebrate your own book day!) here.

It's also the unofficial-official birthday* of one of my favorite writers, Vladimir Nabokov, and the subject of today's Writing Spaces.

This is Nabokov's office at Cornell, where he's working on a translation of Eugene Onegin. I fell in love with his writing from the first thing I read, the short story "Spring in Fialta." But of course, the work that never ceases to amaze me is Lolita. Nothing in the world can compare to the absolutely brilliant, breathtaking, funny, disarming language, and I could sit and read it over and over and still find another layer of complexity to explore.

So, since World Book Day encourages you to take some time to read, I highly suggest you pick up some Nabokov and enjoy the writing of a man who loved to

write in bed,

play chess,


hunt for butterflies,

and then meticulously study those butterflies.

"We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep."

*I will spare you Wikipedia's confusing note on this, which mentioned Gregorian calendars and Julian calendars and time-shifting. Suffice it to say, Nabokov celebrated his birthday on April 23, despite not being born on April 23, and that's good enough for me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wrap Up: April Showers/Pretty Flowers Edition

Good news! This morning, an email appeared in my inbox letting me know that my books can be picked up from the library*! Bad news? It is raining and the library is far away and we have no car...

We've been lucky so far avoiding rain, but we're in for a wet weekend, which I will probably spend staring out the window, hoping for sunshine so I can go get my books. In fact, the only good thing about the rain is that the gardens along my street likely will be even prettier than they are (thanks, green-thumbed neighbors!). Seeing as we live on the fourth floor, I don't have a little garden (except for our indoor plants**), but I did get to enjoy some pretty spring flowers, courtesy the husband.

Doh. Pretty, pretty...

All right, let's get on to the show: this week's best blog posts!

Rachelle Gardner pretty much swept my links list this week, with three (!!!) great blog posts. First up, are you in this for the long haul? An outlook on the publishing landscape of today and tomorrow. And tips on how to title your book.

As several writing conferences open registration, Rachel Kent gives suggestions on how to prepare and get the most out of conferences

Strange Chemistry (the YA division of publisher Angry Robot) is taking open-door manuscript submissions. Find out more details here!

The big news this week: the Pultizer jury decided not to award a prize in fiction (and people are mad). Here's a breakdown of what happened

Bookseller Rachel Kent talks trends and gives some thoughts on what might be popular next in YA

Also at Publishing Crawl, Biljana Likic discusses authors who jump genres and why readers tend not to follow

L.B. Grant covers character voice and has some thoughts to keep in mind when crafting voice

Finally, why do old books smell?

And one more pretty flower picture... Have a good weekend!

*The Fault in Our Stars, Delirium, Miss Peregine's Home for Unusual Children, and Anna and the French Kiss. It's a book bonanza!

**The peace lily, rosemary, two teeeeeny cacti, and the basil twins. I was told I couldn't have a kitten, so I take out my obsessive-owner instincts on our plants. LOOK AT THIS PICTURE OF THEM AREN'T THEY SO ADORABLE!!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Friendly Reminder

Right now I am deep into my new project, running into road blocks and dead ends with every turn (and, yeah, okay, a few beautifully-manicured, tree-lined streets, too), and the only thing that keeps me from giving up hope is that my brain has never failed to meet a challenge. I know that eventually, I will get a eureka moment. Sometimes it just takes longer than I would like...

That said, I've been thinking about this wonderful quote from John Cleese (while urging my brain to get on with it already). Hope it's as helpful to you as it's been to me!:

This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing Spaces: Bookstore Love

Happy Monday, everyone! It is blustery and cold in Chicago today and looks like it is about to burst into rain any second (I wish...).

First up, some housekeeping: If you look over there --> you'll see that "What I'm Reading Now" still lists last week's Black Heart. That's because I'm anxiously waiting to pick up some books from the library and so am book-less. There is a very good chance that the next book I'll read will be Lauren Oliver's Delirium, but since it's on the longer side and most likely won't be available for pick-up for a few more days, there probably won't be a new Quick Review this week.

But! I do have something special planned, just in case, so remember to check back on Thursday!

And speaking of "something special," today's Writing Spaces is a little unusual but near and dear to my heart: bookstores.

Bookstores can be tricky places to work, especially since these days they are about as rare as unicorns, but ooh do I love them.

I love giant big-box bookstores (RIP Borders!) with shelves so high and long that they practically beg to be used for hide-and-seek, with the free wireless and comfy chairs that make them perfect on-the-road workspaces.

I love old, musty, used book stores--like this one, which is from my home town. We would go there on weekends, and I can still remember where all my favorites are: comics on the corner right by the door, humor along the back wall, kids books at the center aisle. I would grab a dozen, curl up on the cold concrete floor, and just read.

I love my college bookstore, and when the library got too busy or too quiet, I would head for the Coop, snag one of the balcony tables, and people-watch.

I love local, community-energizing bookstores like the one in my neighborhood, 57th Street Books, which holds author readings and book clubs and events for kids and is full of the nicest and most knowledgeable store clerks.

I love bookstores with histories and personalities, bookstores that are practically meccas for booklovers, like the wonderful, much-beloved Strand in New York and its 18 miles of books.

Don't get me wrong--libraries are fantastic, too (and will one day get their own Writing Spaces post, I'm sure), but when I want energy, when I want connection, I go to a bookstore. I very rarely buy new books (I am a library lover through and through), and so when I walk into a bookstore, it's usually because I've discovered a book that I love that I want to own forever. So bookstores to me mean permanence and passion, inspiration and excitement.

I'll leave you with the video that inspired this post, Where Books are Loved:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Wrap Up: Fancy Nails Edition

Yesterday, completely bored, run down by allergies, and fighting off a headache, I took a break from work and painted my nails. I am usually pretty terrible at nail-painting, especially when I try to be fancy, but I love my results!

They were inspired by this tutorial at pretty.pretty.paper (her nails pretty much blow mine out of the water...), and are easy to do, even for a polish-illiterate person like myself.

Basically, paint the base (here I used essie's "absolutely shore"), let dry and paint with a top coat (I use Revlon's "extra life no chip top coat"). When it's completely dry--I waited a few hours, cut out small squares of painters tape and cover the ends of your nails, so there's a little triangle pattern on it. Use your second color (I used a grey I mixed up myself) and paint the exposed portion. Pull off the tape, give it another coat of top coat, and you're done!

Here's a close-up, where you can see even more clearly all the little mistakes I made. Whoops.

With my new paint job I'm ready for the weekend, but first! Here's this week's blog wrap-up!

Via Galleycat, the American Library Association posted its list of the top ten most-challenged books of 2011. Check it out if you enjoy grumbling about censorship and the phrase "unsuitable for age group"

With self-pub only growing more popular, Rachelle Gardner discusses why authors might want to stick with traditional publishers. She also gives some tips on writing several manuscripts before seeking publication

The Atlantic posted its list of the best heroines in YA (what what Francie Nolan!), and Tor, respectfully, offered a rebuttal

RIP BooksEnds blog! Before she rode off into the sunset, Jessica gave her thoughts about publishers (and agents) who take risks on projects they love

Jodi Meadows at Pub Crawl talks about the possibilities of genre mashing and why it's so appealing to writers and readers

The DOJ suit of the publishers and Apple for allegedly colluding on e-book prices is going ahead. I won't pretend to know everything that's going on, but Maureen Johnson does a great job of giving a primer on the issues and Nathan Bransford once again writes an excellent summary of what's happening and where things will go from here

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Inspiring Images: Rockwell Kent and Moby Dick

This post is part of YA Highway's "Roadtrip Wednesday." Today's question: What images inspire/represent your WIP or favorite book?

I'd been thinking of this topic for a while before I saw it pop up on Roadtrip Wednesday. Right now I'm researching my latest project, and images play a huge part in reminding me of the kind of feel I want to keep. Without getting too much into details (because that makes me feel weird...), one of the books that's a huge inspiration, style- and content-wise, is Moby Dick.

The husband, wanting to participate in my writing process as best as he can, got the book out of the library and decided he would read it. I picked it up one day from his desk, looking for a particular passage, when I saw it: these illustrations.

They were so expressive, so emotional

 Like miniatures stories in of themselves

 Incredibly beautiful, and, as woodcuts, incredibly simple

I was completely blown away by what I saw: over 200 of some of the most beautiful, impressive illustrations I have ever seen. I immediately went right to the internet to learn all that I could about the illustrator, Rockwell Kent. He was a muralist, printmaker, and drawer whose best work occurred in the 20s and 30s, including Moby Dick.

You can see the art-deco-ish influences on his work: the naturalism, the strong line, the incredibly expressive body.

 Here: an illustration of a sermon in the port town where Moby Dick begins

This image of Queequg, the kind and gentle native, using his harpoon as a straight razor
is just so wonderfully strange and evocative:
you get an immediate sense of his power and unusualness
 This is one of my favorite images in the entire book,
an illustration of Ishmael and Queequeg sharing a bed (as boarders often did) before their voyage.
There is so so much to love:
the impressive perspective, the natural curve of Queequeg's body and the sharp point of his elbow, Ishmael's perfect trust and relaxation, the use of shading and shadow to convey a rich sense of color and depth.
It is such a disarmingly complex image.

There are more images I love, images that also tell strange and interesting stories. I loved them so much, in fact, that one afternoon I sat down and took photos of every single image in the book, just because I wanted to have access to them at all times (sorry copyright police. public domain?).

Whenever I feel like I want to get a better sense of the tone of my story, I sit down and look at the images. They are a lesson in simplicity, in mastery, in understanding your subject and seeing something unusual in them: pride or foolishness or shame.

It's helpful to be able to completely jump disciplines and see how someone captured this time and this energy using drawings instead of words, and these are absolutely the most inspiring images for my work.

I'll leave you with a few more of my favorites
 Whalemen killing a beached whale
A shamed sailor
And, of course, the white whale
(those stars! those tiny whales! the tilt of the earth! the plume of spray!
love love love a million times love)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Writing Spaces: Beverly Cleary, Age (Almost) 96

I'm a bit early in the celebrations, but since this Thursday marks Beverly Cleary's 96th (!!!) birthday,
I thought today's Writing Spaces feature should be dedicated
to the author who brought us Ramona, Beezus, Ralph, and Henry Higgins,

This was the clearest photo I could get of something resembling her office,
but it seems like the photos of her relaxing at home have several distinctive features:



and mischievous smile.

Happy Birthday, Beverly!

Friday, April 6, 2012

YA Character Championship Round 10: WE HAVE A WINNER!

Yes! After two weeks and thirty-three battles, the winner of the 2012 YA Character Championship is KATNISS EVERDEEN!

This was a crazy-hard battle, but Katniss prevailed, shooting and interviewing and movie-premiering her way to victory!

What makes Katniss the winner? It's the year of The Hunger Games, with record-breaking movie sales, record-making book sales, and a whole army of etsy crafters keeping the girl-on-fire first and foremost in our minds. She's tough, persevering, and cares more about keeping her family alive than the two moony boys fighting for her affections. Plus, with (at least) two more movies to go, we've got plenty of Katniss-love to look forward to.

I give you the winner of the 1st annual YA Character Championship, Katniss Everdeen!

Wrap Up: Opening Day Edition

Phew! This has been a busy (and productive!) week! I finally crashed through the barrier of writer's block to start work on a new project, I just about finished a veeeery lengthy illustration commission, and today we wrap up my two-week crazy countdown of my favorite YA characters! Sigh... I have never been so happy to reach Friday...

Of course, there's another reason that I'm very happy it's Friday: Opening Day!

Oooh baseball... Did you know the Yankees won't come out to Chicago until August! What am I supposed to do until then?!

Anyway, on to this week's wrap up!:

Veronica Roth, whose Insurgent will hit bookshelves soon, wrote a brave and thoughtful piece this week about sexual assault in YA and her own regrets at including a moment of sexual assault in Divergent

Maureen Johnson comments on the New York Times article last week about parents paying for their kids to be published (she says, in a word: no)

Mary Kole discusses relationships and romance in YA, why they seem to be so physically-driven, and what authors can do to make them feel more realistic

Over at Publishing Crawl, which POV is right for you?

Author Katie Ganshert discusses finding the sweet spot between great writing and a great story

Rachelle Gardner talks about writing in multiple genres and argues for authors sticking to just one genre to grow their audiences and improve their skills

Mandy Hubbard presents an extremely detailed (with diagrams!) look at how she scheduled a week of editor visits on her recent trip to New York
At Books & Such, Mary Keeley gives three tips for how to become unstuck while writing

And finally, I leave you with Hipster Games (based on this, like, really obscure book? You probably haven't heard of it)

Don't forget to check back later today to see the winner of the YA Character Championship!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

YA Character Champship Round 9: The Finals!

Whew! Better late than never, right? Apologies for the delay but I was actually working (an activity so momentous and astonishing that it deserves italics).

WE ARE DOWN TO THE FINAL TWO! Did you ever think we'd make it this far (because I didn't...)? Let's not waste time getting down to details--your two finalists are


Yes, as my mom's daily bracket email pointed out, having a multi-million-dollar movie franchise does give you quite the leg-up, as these two legendary and much-beloved characters climb to the top of the bracket.

Now, the question remains, will Katniss head off to the Victor's Village? Will Harry remain the boy who lived?

Ladies and gentlemen, it's on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

YA Character Championship Round 8: The Final Four!

Well, folks, we've finally made it to the Final Four. Yes, the four best (in my opinion) characters in the following genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Contemporary, and Historical.

Today was the battle of the heavyweights: Harry Potter against Lyra Silvertongue and Katniss Everdeen versus Tris Pryor. It was a valiant effort on the part of the number-two seeds, but in the end, Harry and Katniss dominated, sweeping their brackets all the way up to the semi-finals.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Round 8 bracket:

We are down to the final four, and favorites are going to fall! Tomorrow: it's Harry versus Cameron to settle the question, can Contemporary defeat Fantasy?

Check back tomorrow and find out!

A Review of the Archery in the Hunger Games Movie by a Grumpy Former Archer

Last weekend, I joined several million of my friends and finally went to go see The Hunger Games. It was fun! I mean, I am always a little meh when it comes to book-to-film adaptations, but I heartily enjoyed myself.

One thing I was especially looking forward to was the archery. As a former archer, I'm always anxious to see how my sport is portrayed on film, and The Hunger Games guaranteed some bow and arrow action.

A few weeks ago, I posted a (very, very, very long) overview of how to write about archery for your YA story. It covered the basics of equipment and shooting and also debunked some frequent myths. In that same vein, I thought I'd take a look at the movie's take on archery.

First, my cred: I shot for five years while I was a teenager, and during that time, archery was my biggest passion. Like, wake up every morning at 5am to shoot for a few hours before school kind of passion. My weekends were spent in competition, my summers were spent 5-days-a-week training. I had a goal to get to the Olympics, but when the competition to get to the trials was held the same day as my high school graduation, I figured the Olympics come every four years, but I'll only graduate once.*

The point is, I know my archery. So! To get to the movie: how did it do?

I would give the movie a solid B. Mostly, the filmmakers did a good job portraying everything, and there were only a few moments that made me snort into my Cherry Coke. But, as an archer, I didn't think Katniss did anything too special or amazing and I would have liked to see more cool trick shooting (as is described in the book).

Let's break it down (very, very minor spoilers ahead!):

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

YA Character Championship Round 7: We Have Our Region Winners!

An exciting round today, as we can crown the winners of the Contemporary and Historical regions!

In Contemporary, the top spot goes to Going Bovine's Cameron Smith, for his witty, fresh, and courageous take on life in the face of certain death and one seriously bizarre road trip.

And in Historical, riding high on my mom's effusive praise, is Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief, because there's no crime like literary-minded crime!

Here's today's bracket:

Tomorrow we look to Fantasy and Sci-Fi! Both top seeds are still in the running, but close on their heels are the number 2 seeds! Will Harry fall to Lyra? Who will win the battle of the dystopian heroines? Find out tomorrow!

Monday, April 2, 2012

YA Character Championship Round 6: Let's Hear it for the Classics

We're reaching the home stretch of the YA Character Championship! Today is the last day before we head into the semi-finals, with the final winner announced this Friday!

Today, the big story is the classic characters trouncing the newbies, as Harry Potter, Lyra, and Catherine (Called Birdy) win their rounds against professional survivalist Katsa, the sea-horse-whisperer Sean Kendrick, and WWII sketcher Lina.

In the final battle for today, Liesel defeats Joey from War Horse, a result of hard lobbying by the biggest fan this bracket has, my mom.*

Here's your Round 6 bracket!:

Things get real tomorrow, as we enter into our final battles. I used a random number generator to come up with the schedule for this week's events and they are:

Tuesday: Alaska versus Cameron and Liesel versus Catherine
Wednesday:  Harry versus Lyra and Katniss versus Tris
Thursday: the Fantasy winner versus the Contemporary winner and the Sci-Fi winner versus the Historical winner

Get ready, and get voting!

*I present, complete and unabridged, the email she sent me:
"How can you possibly have a horse beat Liesel?!  Granted, she committed a crime or two but they were crimes of passion – passion for books, no less!  She had to take that book from the grave site  – she had lost her brother – she had nothing to hold on to – books were her only salvation.  And was she really stealing from the Mayor’s wife?  Who leaves a window open and a plate of cookies for a thief?  It was more entrapment than crime.  I vote for Liesel to the end!"

Writing Spaces: National Poetry Month!

It's April, and that means it's also time to celebrate poems, poets, and poetry. In honor of National Poetry Month, today's writing spaces features the desks, shaggy carpets, and comfy chairs of some of my favorite poets. Clicking on the name will bring you to some of their poems; take some time, click through, and enjoy!

Langston Hughes
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

T.S. Eliot
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass

And, of course, the bard himself: William Shakespeare
The quality of mercy is not strain'd.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.