Monday, May 22, 2017

BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE // Nostalgia and Peace

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

As with THE RAVEN BOYS and THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater, I first listened to BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE on audiobook, and it was phenomenal. 

The Characters

Greenmantle // Greenmantle is an odd villain; he’s truly terrible, and truly dangerous, but he fascinates me more than he scares me. Danger and evil seem almost to bore him. The best thing about him, though, is that Stiefvater makes him feel like a real person. 

Piper // Piper is even more interesting than her husband. Though she conforms to some of the more stereotypical female tropes (not to say that any of those are bad)—yoga, book clubs, buying small ugly dogs (okay, small ugly dogs are bad), etc.—she is also her own person. Like Greenmantle, she doesn’t seem to be able to feel fear or love. But, as my sister says, they still make a cute couple. 

Jesse Dittley // *eyes turn to hearts* I love Jesse. I love how Stiefvater puts his dialogue in all caps because it’s so big and boomy. I love how Stiefvater shows his dialectic speech more than she does with some of the other characters. And I love how he calls Blue “ant” and wonders if she’s short because she didn’t eat her vegetables. 

Adam’s father // Adam’s father, when shown through the lens of distance, is harder to fear because he’s easier to see. That’s not to say that his actions become justifiable, only understandable in terms of who he is: a petulant person, more child than man. 

Maura // Even though this book centers around her absence, I felt like I learned more about Maura in this story than I did in the two previous. Maura is wise and gentle and something other. She is like Blue and she is like the Gray Man and she is like a cup of Earl Grey tea with cream. 

Stiefvater's Writing

When I was trying to decide whether or not to buy IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma, I remember finding that the biggest issue negative reviewers had was the writing style. They complained that the prose was dense and hard to get into (in so many words). But if you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you’ve likely seen me mention how much I love everything about IMAGINARY GIRLS. “Liz,” you say, “you’re getting distracted. We were talking about BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE.” 

We are, don’t worry. I mention IMAGINARY GIRLS because I’ve seen several reviewers, even ones who like Stiefvater’s books, mention that it was hard to get into THE RAVEN BOYS because of the writing style. Stiefvater’s style, like Suma’s, is richer and asks to be read more slowly. It’s meant to be savored. The sentences are more out of the box; when I get stuck in a sentence structure rut, reading their work helps me to view writing in a new light. 

Obviously, my stylistic preferences won't always be yours. But if you happen to like Nova Ren Suma’s style, Stiefvater’s will likely appeal to you as well. 

The Atmosphere

I know I touched on atmosphere in my review of THE RAVEN BOYS, but I want to mention it again. Very rarely, when I’m reading, do I get truly absorbed. I can be head-over-heels for a story and still forget to pick it back up once I’ve put it down. But the Raven Cycle blocks out anxiety-driven distractions and overactive thoughts. Stiefvater’s writing steals me from my time and lands me in some strange in-between place where it’s always autumn, and always spring, where there’s always a cool breeze and rain and the sound of moving leaves and bird song in the morning. It slows my blood. 

While I mentioned that I love living in Virginia because it makes me think of this series, I feel it’s also important to mention that I may have been living in Virginia and enjoying it for a few months before I picked up the Raven Cycle, but it was the Raven Cycle that made me never want to leave. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some books that make you feel peaceful? Do you like books that make you feel strangely nostalgic?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Intentionality and Sacrifices

When I was sixteen, I wrote the rough draft of TIME IN A BOTTLE for NaNoWriMo 2013. At the time, that rough draft was a trilogy of rough drafts, and the story, especially the ending, was markedly different than it is now. 

With DRACONIAN, I had already begun to realize that I edit best by rewriting everything word by word. But because I had never edited a project from start to finish, I wasn’t confident. Compounding this, I was only happy with the first three quarters of the first book. The rest I wanted to trash. 

When my sister challenged me to turn the trilogy into a duology, I took it a step further and consolidated the whole thing into one book. I ended up cutting all but 30K of the original 160K before adding another 50K of new material. 

When I was editing TIB, I let my first critique partner assign me a deadline, and then I worked as hard as I could to meet that deadline. I began getting up at 4:30 every morning (which I later changed to 4:00), and I wrote for an hour before school. After school, I edited until supper, and then after supper too, if I could. Weekends were amazing. I would watch Star Trek on Friday nights and then edit until midnight. Once I finished my Saturday chores, I usually had the whole day to edit as well. Sundays I would try to take off, but often I ended up editing for at least an hour. 

Essentially, I turned into a hermit. It frustrated me when other people threw work at me without giving me advance warning, because I wanted to be able to cancel my scheduled breaks from editing accordingly and not waste a whole day due to lack of communication. I didn’t do much socially, but I still got out some. I didn’t even start a blog until I was almost ready to start querying, because I wanted all my time for editing. I did, however, take the whole summer off from writing. 

There were complaints that I was missing out, putting too much stress on myself, being selfish with my time, etc…

But when I look back at that time, I remember it as the best year of my life, and I want to replicate it, to immerse myself like that again. I miss sacrificing things for writing. I don’t regret that lost socialization. I don’t regret that I read less and slept less. I wrote a book and, trunked or not, I am so so happy with that accomplishment. 

As I started querying, though, the discouragement of rejection after rejection began to set in, and I started to listen to the people who told me (in so many words) that writing wasn’t worth that level of committement, that my time was not my own, that I was unlikely to succeed anyway, and so on and so forth. I stopped prioritizing writing and, instead, let it fall to hobby status. When I wrote TIME IN A BOTTLE, I treated it like a full-time (though unpayed) job; when I started feeling like I didn’t have the right to do that, I barely accomplished anything, and I became increasingly depressed. 

Lately, I’ve been working to get back to that writing-as-a-full-time job mindset, carving out space on my schedule when I have to, even scaling back a bit on reading. I still socialize, and I still do things for others, but I am more intentional about how I use my time. I don't want to feel guilty about viewing writing as a responsibility; I want to stop listening to people who see it only as an indulgence. It is not selfish to build my career. 

It boils down to this: If you are serious about writing as a job, if you think it's what you’re supposed to be doing, you have to be intentional about it. You have to make sacrifices (but not the animal/human kind; we've talked about this). Obviously, balance is important, and experiencing a fuller life will give you more to write about. I’m not saying you should retreat into the woods and never show your face. I'm not saying you should skip out on relationships. There will be other requirements on your time that you will not always be able to ignore. But if you consistently let people guilt you into making writing take back burner, writing will not happen. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are your thoughts? What are some things that make it harder for you to carve out writing time? 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dream Crate

Note: This post is not sponsored. It’s just for fun. 

A little while ago, Loot Crate put together a fun project encouraging fans to write a post detailing what you would do if you could design one of their crates. You're welcome to join in and write your own Dream Crate post, if you'd like! (For those of you who don't know what Loot Crate is, it's a monthly subscription box that offers geeky gifts and fandom merch.)

100% creative freedom for my geekery? Sign me up! 

After throwing around some ideas (translation: trying not to go with the first thing that popped into my head), I went with the first thing that popped into my head. There's no escaping the fact that Sci-Fi is my one true love. 

Space-themed it is. 

Let’s start with Star trek. We’ll need a Spock Funko POP, because with all due respect, Spock is the best of the Star Trek characters. Naturally, this Spock would be holding a tricorder. 

Along with the Star Trek Funko POP, we’ll need something Guardians of the Galaxy-themed, so I'd add a Groot Funko POP. 

Next, I'd include a Doctor Who-themed mug that looks like a fez (it would probably have to be an upside-down fez, but whatever, the Doctor would approve), along with a bumper sticker that says “Mad man with a box”. 

Moving on to The Martian, we’ll go with a laptop sticker (designed to look like an Amazon review) that says, “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.” Along with that, I would throw in a stress ball that looks like Mars. 

Finally, we can’t forget Firefly. We’ll need a T-shirt with the outline of Mal’s head in a bonnet, but in place of his face, there’d be text saying: “If your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you”. 

Thus concludes my dream crate. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? If this were actually a crate from Loot Crate, would you want it? Do any of you subscribe to Loot Crate? I’ve been drooling over some of their merch for some time now.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


A little while ago, I set some deadlines for myself. They were as follows: 

Finish the final draft of DRACONIAN by March 31st. 

Finish the second draft of BMT by March 31st. 

Finish the second draft of my super secret novella side project (SSNSP) by April 15th. 

I told you that if I didn’t meet at least two of these deadlines, you could revoke my coffee privileges. 

Well, you can’t take my caramel macchiato away today. 

Not only did I finish DRACONIAN ahead of schedule, I also got back into the query trenches. 

Before starting this draft, DRACONIAN was 96K words long, which was a bit high. As I went through, I tightened the writing, cut one scene, and added another. My end word count? 83K words. It took three read throughs, four months, and at least fifty lattes. You could argue that it was, in fact, not just one draft. Whatever. The point is, it’s done. At long last, I am finally satisifed with the finished product. 

Fun fact: On the day I was finishing DRACONIAN, I was sitting in my customary spot in my church, in the lobby, on the floor, beside a potted plant. (No, I do not want a desk, thank you very much.) A lady from the church came by and introduced me to her grandson, who asked me what I was writing. I told him my book is about “revenge, dragons, and murder.” He then proceeded to sit there and read over my shoulder while I edited, and when he left, he told me he hoped my book got published so he could read it. 

*internal screaming* 

I also finished the second draft of SSNSP ahead of schedule, because I am bad at keeping side projects side projects. It started off as a 103K word NaNoWriMo-born manuscript, which I wanted to condense into novella format. *laughs hysterically* "Why would you do this to yourself," you ask? Several reasons. I have never been confident with short fiction. More specifically, I have never tackled writing a novella before, and it seemed like a good idea to challenge myself. Since unpublished writers traditionally struggle with tightening their writing, I figured turning a 103K draft into a novella-length project would be an effective, albeit brutal lesson in cutting the fat. So what was my final word count on this second draft? 8,200 words. 

Now, before you start telling me that’s a short story, not, in fact, a novella, rest assured I am well aware of this. That is by no means the final word count. My process involves cutting away most of the rough draft so I can figure out the bone structure before going through and, in the third draft, adding muscle instead of fat. In this current draft, there is sparse description, little-to-no dialogue, and a lot of glossed over stuff. That’s okay. My main goal was just getting all the scenes in order and the plot tacked down so I can have a solid foundation. 

My end goal for SSNSP is to end somewhere between 25-30K words. I’m a little worried, with good cause (*cough* DRACONIAN started off as a short story and is now the first book in a trilogy *cough*), that this novella could still turn into a novel. 

"What about BMT," you ask? "As I recall, you were making such good progress on it." 

I know, I know. I was. 

What happened? 

A number of things. First and foremost, DRACONIAN took up more time and mental energy than I anticipated, and I wanted to prioritize finishing it up so I could focus on newer, shinier projects. But the biggest thing that happened was that, as I progressed, I found myself dissatisfied with the direction my story went in the rough draft. I found myself needing to draft new scenes while editing, but I can’t do that if I’m not sure where I’m even going with the overall structure. This means I’ll likely have to write a brand new rough draft. 

There’s also the matter of BMT being a weird, intensely emotional creature. I spent a year planning it and jotting down assorted scenes before I even drafted it in November 2015. And after, I immediately set it aside to let it cook until I felt I was ready. Now that time has passed and I understand the story better, I have to update the book accordingly. 

So what are my plans now? For the next couple weeks, I’m going to focus on sending out more query letters, writing and editing more blog posts, reading more books and watching more Netflix, and possibly editing a short story or two for fun. I also want to organize my hard drive, streamline my blog, answer comments, and tackle other assorted projects that work well for procrastinatory purposes. Realistically speaking I won’t have time to accomplish everything on this list, but I hope to at least make a dent. My creative well is a bit dry after completing DRACONIAN, so while I don’t want to waste time, I’m also struggling to dive right into the next project. 

My new deadlines are as follows (assuming no other time commitments get in the way, which they might): 

Finish draft three of SSNSP by June 30th. 

Finish draft two of BMT by June 30th. 

Finish draft two of DRACONIAN 2 (hereafter known as D2) by July 31st. 

Once again, if I fail to meet at least two of these deadlines, you have permission to revoke my caffeine privileges. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? What are some of your writing successes and setbacks? What are some of your goals?