January 31

Coldest Girl In Cold Town

Coldest GirlTana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.
One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is one of those rare Young Adult books that have me re-reading it both for enjoyment and to try to understand the author’s writing techniques. I’ve happily purchased this book and plan to continue re-reading and dismantling the book to my heart’s content.

Tana is refreshing. She isn’t a special snowflake, a lost princess or a chosen one.  She’s an ordinary girl with history and flaws, who is simply trying to survive in a world where vampires are a very real fear. She does her best, but she isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes and makes questionable decisions.  However, instead of her decisions being made because Black requires it, Tana has strong reasons for making them, giving her agency.

Black avoids stereotypes and tropes. Tana is not a virgin, but she’s not a hyper-sexualized being like I so often see in young adult books. She sits comfortably between those two extremes. Not all the characters in the book are heterosexual. Some are straight, some are bi and at least one is transsexual.

There is a bit of a romance in the book, but no love triangle, and Tana’s love interest is absent for half of the book. His absence allows Tana to figure out how to survive on her own, how to stay human on her own and how to save herself. She fights for herself and for other people, instead of waiting for someone to rescue her. Independent female characters with agency are rare in Young Adult fiction, especially when they have a romantic interest.

I love how Holly Black packs so much information about a character, or a setting in a single, descriptive sentence.  I keep re-reading her book partly to learn this skill and become proficient with it. I love her ability to show, and not tell. But, beyond her skills as a writer, I enjoy the story itself.

The book isn’t perfect. I don’t like Black’s trademark style of delving into the past every other chapter instead of staying in the story’s present. I know a few people who love that aspect to her books. I’ve always had mixed feelings on the ending. The story arc does end. However, there is room for a sequel. We’re left to decide if Tana manages to “cure” herself or if she damns herself, even with the help of her love interest. This wouldn’t bother me if I knew a second book was coming, but as of this writing, Black says she doesn’t anticipate writing a sequel.

If you don’t mind vampire novels that don’t follow the norm, pick up The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and give it a try.

Category: Uncategorized
January 20

New Papercuts Podcast Released

I don’t imagine I’ll do this often, but since I did take a year-long hiatus from this blog, I thought I should mention that I am a founding member of Papercuts Podcast and one of three hosts.

We use the podcast to praise/bitch about the state of Young Adult media. We feature: YA book and movie reviews, trope talks, author interviews and whatever else us girls find relevant. We recently released our latest Podcast.  This one is on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where the goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. We discuss tips and tricks on how to win NaNo. The reasons you should and shouldn’t do NaNo. What to do once NaNo is over and more.

Here’s the podcast.  Though if you want to see the real page with all the juicy stuff that’s included you can go to: http://papercutspodcast.com/?p=688.  Be warned, we don’t watch our language, hold back on threats, or hide our dirty minds.


Right click to download

 

January 13

Stoking the Motivational Fire in Your Writing

Writing has always been my companion. I tell people that I was born with a pen in my hand. Through my childhood, writing was my best escape from childhood bullying. It’s been my best weapon against loneliness and despair. I wrote my first novel-length story by the time I was twelve. As a college student, friends would complain that by the time they started reading my work, I’d have re-written half of it. As an adult, my motivation to write has waned. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I can’t say why.

I still love reading. I still enjoy writing, but where I used to get physically ill if I didn’t write every day, now I struggle to put pen to paper. I’ve been trying a few things out and I’m glad to say I’m getting some of my motivation back.

Return to Your Roots

Before I graduated High School I was surrounded by music. My brothers and I constantly had something playing on our CD player, or boombox. We’d dance at random intervals, simply because we really liked a particular song. I listened to songs over and over while I was writing. The music would become background noise, something I ceased to hear at one point, but writing came easily. When I got stuck on a scene in my story, or had no clue where my plot was going, I’d exchange music with one of my brothers. Usually that knocked the devilish idea I needed lose.

Music didn’t disappear once I left for college, but it became a much smaller part of my life. While surviving schoolwork, jobs, internships and a social life, I wasn’t surrounded by music. I exchanged songs with friends on occasion, but it wasn’t the same. Once I graduated with my BA, I moved to Idaho, and music took up even less of my life. I didn’t have a boombox. I had an MP3 off and on—I’m usually behind the times—and my background noise turned into movies I’d watched dozens of times over and over. Every once in a while I’d dig through my music collection and that was usually to get rid of a persistent, unending song.

Lately I’ve been returning to my music roots. I have a stereo and constantly have it playing a CD, an mp3 or the radio while I’m home. I haven’t turned the television on since getting the stereo set up in my room, and I have no immediate desire to change that. I’m shifting through YouTube and Pandora for songs that spark something in me; as well as taking recommendations from friends. My urge to write has grown significantly, though it still isn’t where it once was.

Research/Fill the Well

When I hear fill the well, it’s usually in reference to doing something physical outside of writing, like walking, going to a fair, getting out of the house. I do find those types of activities helpful, but I also find research to be equally helpful in filling my well.

While at work, if I’m not interested in listening to music, I’ll listen to documentaries on YouTube. It can be about anything, so long as it interests me. I’ve listened to videos on the history of guns, studied all the English royals, learned about Ivar the Boneless, Hellewise Pennington, and Aphra Behn. I’ve watched videos on writing, fighting, traveling, and so much more. Most of it has nothing to do with what I’m currently writing, but the new information swirls in my head, ready to be used. Sometimes, a completely random thing I hear in the video makes me look at my story in a different way, spawning potential plot bunnies for me to follow, thus getting me to write. By allowing myself to research outside of what is necessary for my book, I’m learning a lot, expanding my mind and opening the door to getting plenty more story ideas. Most importantly I’m filling the well.

Set Goals

Goals can come in different sizes. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get a draft of my sequel completely written. Like most people I didn’t set any parameters on how I’d go about accomplishing this. This is partially because I see New Year’s Resolutions more as guides. What do I want to accomplish? And if, for some reason, I have to change the goal, I can. I’m not tied down to the stone it’s written on, so I won’t drown if I toss it in the lake.

If I write what I’d like to accomplish the next day down in my journal, I significantly increase my chances of doing it. Sometimes I’m very specific on what those goals are “I’m going to edit the entire fight scene in this book” or “I’m going to come up with new words for an hour.” Other times, I’m less specific, “I’m going to get some editing done,  or some new words written tomorrow.” Both are equally effective for me. I can celebrate my success in meeting those goals or commit to doing better in the next day’s entry, which in a weird way creates the accountability that I’ve been lacking. If you don’t keep a journal, I imagine you could post goals on your blog, or Facebook or Twitter. If you’re more private, finding a friend that will ask you “Did you make your goal?” may do the trick.

Those small, miniature, daily goals can help you work toward your big goal. If my daily goal always involves some kind of editing or writing, I’m making progress toward finishing a draft of my sequel and to completing my New Year’s Resolution.

Compete With Yourself

One thing I’m learning is that comparing yourself to other people leads to depression and writer’s block. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure. I’m twenty-six and haven’t published anything, but so-and-so is twenty-two and he/she has published so many books,” I’m trying to compete with myself. In the last few months, I’ve written down what my current word count is on the last day of each month. That way I can see how many words I wrote in the last month. I then tell myself, I’m going to write more the upcoming month. I’m going to compete with myself to get that higher word count. This pushes me to work harder without damaging my self-esteem or making me feel that no matter what I write, or how many times I re-write, I’m producing shit. It also helps keep the fire of motivation burning underneath me, so I write more regularly than I have in a long time. I’m sure I’ll experiment with other things to use against myself, but, for now, word counts work.

With bills to pay, a job to work, the stress of home life to contend with, life seems to do its best to drown the flames of your motivation. But hopefully some of these tricks will help you keep the flames burning. Have you tried any of these tricks? And what tricks do you use to stay motivated? Let me know in comments!

Category: Writing
January 3

Robin Returns!

Time did not escape me. I am well-aware I haven’t updated my blog in over a year.  With me working a full-time job, going to school as a full-time student, making occasional podcasts for Papercuts and attempting to have a life, some things were bound to fall into neglect.  Unfortunately this blog was one of them.

I now possess a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Creative Writing. Life is settling down with me out of school and I’m picking up the loose strands in my life.  This blog is one of those strands. I will be updating the website. I also intend to update this blog once a week, with the hope that posts will increase with time.  This blog will contain book reviews, information on writing, the occasional guest post and author interview and snippets of life. Suggestions are welcome.  Just leave a comment or contact me on what you’d like to see.

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe  and you’ll get an email whenever I update my blog.

Thanks!

Category: Uncategorized
November 26

Back in School: ECE to Write, Books to Read

A lot has happened since my last blog post. I did make my goal and I emailed several agents about my book. So far, I’ve received nothing but rejections, though some did ask that I query them for my next project if I don’t get anything with this one. I’m going to let the book sit for a while before I do anything more with it. Maybe when I look at it again, whenever that’ll be, I’ll have a better idea of how to make it more appealing to agents/editors even in this saturated market.

I have a lot to focus on now. As some of you know, I just returned from my school residency. I learned a ton and if I remember, or if someone gives me a nudge, I’ll post some of what I learned on here. I have a list of major things that all successful novels have in them, information about libraries and publicity, etc. I’d love to share it, but those are something that would need their own blogs.

Since residency is over, my independent study has begun and that means I have an ECE to write. The ECE needs to be twenty to thirty pages long and the rough draft is due on December 17. I already feel like I’m scrambling.  I’m writing about LGBTQIA characters in Young Adult literature and any statistics, papers or articles on the topic are welcome.

My due dates are as follows:
December 17
January 24
February 16
March 14
April 4

Along with the 20 to 30 page essay, I’ll need to read 10 books, as is tradition, for the semester.

Books to Read:
Ask the Passengers by AS King
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The Art of Fiction by John Garner
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers
Huntress by Malinda Lo
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
Ash by Malinda Lo
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
Write your novel from the middle by James Scott Bell

Now if I can’t find a book, or I simply can’t get into the book, I can switch a book out for another with my mentor’s approval. However, I tend to stay close to my original reading list.  My mentor this semester is Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

I should have plenty to post over the next few months.

Category: Uncategorized
August 24

SEPTEMBER 1

September 1.

That is the goal.

On September 1, I plan to send my first query out in 11 years. I was 15 the last time I tried to get published and the world has changed since then. Most agents are taking or even requiring email queries now. This may be a good thing, because I spent a small fortune on stamps, and envelopes when I was 15. Now it’s just a click of the button. The Writer’s Market and other sources I used to help me find agents doesn’t appear to have as much of a selection as it used to. Their may be other changes that have occurred but that I am not immediately aware of.

What hasn’t changed is the anxiety. The constant question of “Is the book really ready?” Of wondering if, once you send it off, “Will I never find someone who loves my baby?” Those fears have made me delay, find reasons to keep editing my book, to improve on it, but NOT send it in. I need to get over these nerves and the best way to do that is to send out that query letter. Right?

September 1 is the goal.

I have the first half of my story checked for grammar, and spelling issues. I have the second half to work on. I have the query letter written, a draft of a synopsis done, and a long list of agents to query. And September 1 is right around the corner.

June 11

Getting ready for a writer’s retreat in McCall, Idaho

Cabin in McCall

Cabin in McCall. Photo taken from the rental site.

The Coeur du Bois chapter of Romance Writers of America is having their annual Writer’s retreat this month.  This will be my third time attending.

We will be going to the same cabin in McCall we went to last year. As you can probably tell from the photo we are in a pretty remote location during retreat. We can’t get internet there, which is both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because, though everyone has a computer with them, our typical online distractions, like facebook, are no longer available to us in McCall. But, you can bet that you will require a vital piece of information for your story and you can’t get online to research the topic.

During our four-day stay, we engage in several power hours a day. The power hours are simple things.  A timer is set and we write for an hour. No editing. No researching.  No plotting. Just writing. It’s a great exercise and you really learn how much writing you can get done in a short amount of time, especially if you find someone to compete with–word count wise. They are also probably the most structured thing about retreat.

For those who want to do more than huddle among the blue screens of a computer, or empty two or three pens into a notebook, they’ll find plenty.  A member or two did enough walking during last years retreat to have walked an entire marathon. Several members go into town to enjoy the farmer’s market, old-fashioned chocolate shop, the beach and so much more. My first year, we saw plenty of deer from the cabin window.  Last year we saw a fox moving through the tall grass and wild flowers. I can only imagine what we will see this year.

Once we’ve exhausted our writing for the day, we find things to do. Someone brought cards and hard candy and several of us played twenty-one. We bring books to read. We play games that allow us to get to know each other better or have long conversations. I’ve never been bored.

With this being my third year going to retreat I have a pretty decent idea of what I need to take with me. I’ll be bringing clothes I can layer, because the weather at McCall can vary. The usual stuff you would expect.  And writing supplies. This year that probably means a hardcopy of the two stories I’m working on, along with my computer, a notebook, pens, etc. I’ll bring a throw with me to cover my shoulders for when  my body seems to have a different temperature than everyone else in the cabin. A small pillow to sit on for the hard surfaces, a surge protector because you can never have too many of those. Plus, I’ll bring a special treat. There is always an overabundance of desserts there.  Alcohol is also readily available. Those who know me well would probably gape at the fact that I had a glass of some kind of alcohol every night.

As social and collaborative as the retreat can be, the cabin was usually pretty quiet, which allowed people to sleep in, nap or write until their fingers and pencils were stubs, which I have personal experience in each.  It’s also highly productive and relaxing. I believe I managed to write nearly 20,000 words at retreat alone, and I know I was not in the minority on that. Why would I not look forward to retreat?

Category: Uncategorized
May 24

The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

False PrinceIn a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

The False Prince is the first book in the trilogy and I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d think of when I started.  It was the right genre, but it was more literary than contemporary in feel. However, once I got past the first chapter Jennifer A. Nielsen held my attention. The story reminded me of Disney’s Aladdin and Prince and the Pauper. Trickery and wit allows the hero to survive the danger and save the day.

I must admit I suspected Sage’s true identity fairly early on, though I’m not sure if it was because the clues were obvious.  It could have simply been that I am older than the audience was intended for. But I still had a “What the…” reaction when I got to the reveal of that particular plot point and it wasn’t the good kind. I felt cheated and had hoped the story would go in a different direction. There were also times when Sage’s arrogance annoyed me, but considering his age and his history, his arrogance was realistic.

What didn’t seem realistic to me was how wily Sage was. He did things, anticipated things in a way that seemed almost prophetic. He thought pretty far into the future or made very good, very quick decisions on how to act, which is the case is not explained in any of the three books. But he’s at least consistent in those decisions.

RunawayKingJust weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

The sequel to the series, Runaway King, is decent. The story’s beginning caught my eye much faster than it’s older brother, but I also remember the particular story less than the other two. This one relies heavily on the whole “Prince in disguise” motif with some pirates thrown in.

His arrogance still exists in this book.  And he often sees those older than him as stupid and unwilling to see the truth. Again with his almost prophetic vision, he starts making plans for events that don’t even happen until book three. This book is truly a set-up for the third and final book, and while interesting, does suffer from that “middle book” syndrome trilogies often have in a second book.
Shadow ThroneWar has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya’s throne?


The finale kept my attention.  However, there were parts where I felt the storyline went on far too long.  Their was a lot of mourning without purpose and a lot of tracking down/chase scenes. The tension was tight though so I was never really bored with the book. His arrogance has dwindled down and he takes advice and help easier in this book.  But this book had the most problems of the three I think.  The motives for a few people weren’t clear until the end, and when the reason Mendenwal joined the war came out I wanted to yell, “That’s it?” King Humphrey went to war because of a lie Jaron’s father told and the fact Jaron challenged him to a sword fight when he was 10 for insulting his mother? The fact that “I promised him half of Carthya as his spoils of victory.” Felt thrown in as well.  Another issue I have: we never learn what happens to Mavis. He was a minor character, but I still wonder did he survive the war? Did Mavis and Jaron ever see each other again?

The three books are worth a read though none of them can be called flawless. And my favorite was the first, which really could have been a stand-alone. The series is male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean women don’t have a role. Imogen, and the princess both fight to protect the kingdom in different ways. Neither of them are trained to fight so a lot of it is with kitchen knives or risking their lives to ensure a plan works.  They both save Jaron at different times, in different ways. Their are also women in the story who prove ferocious, determined to protect their homes.

Have you read the Ascendance Trilogy? What did you think?