New England Colors and Boston Teen Author Festival

Hello from the beautiful woods of New England in the fall!
Hello from the beautiful woods of New England in the fall!

Life: This will be a quick update, as I am writing this blog in the midst of my last evening in Boston. The night promises to be full of Pirates (At World’s End), a last supper of cheese and guac with my wonderful critique partners, Akshaya and Janella, and (mostly) trying to make my huge suitcase of books be under 50 lbs :D. Oops. A longer update will come next week, but for now, a few pictures and quick highlights!!

Cheese and Disney princess cups, because what else would we be having?
Cheese and Disney princess glasses, because what else would we have?

Reading: Finished one AMAZING book last week – Snow Like Ashes, by Sara Raasch. Such an intensely captivating, original YA fantasy, centered on a girl and the group of fellow refugees she lives with, as they try to work towards reclaiming Winter, one of the four “season” kingdoms of the world.

SO GOOD
SO GOOD

Also read it just in time, because at Boston Teen Author Festival this weekend (which was SO MUCH FUN!!) I acquired an early copy of Ice Like Fire (book 2 in the trilogy) and I cannot wait to dive into it tomorrow on the plan (if I’m not crashing, in which case, as soon as I’m home). Either way, i will report on it soon here :-).

The critique partners and I, tromping around Boston on our way back from authory events and things!
Janella, Akshaya and I, tromping around Boston on our way back from authory events

Writing: So while my writing week was a bit speckled with travel and events and critique partner time, we actually all managed to carve out a fair amount of writing time – particularly on our mini-retreat these past two days int the woodsy areas of New England!

Writing in idyllic New England <3
Writing in pure bliss

Did a good deal of overall plot work, world-building and brainstorming for the new version of my WIP. This rewrite is completely daunting and still needs so much work, but it was great to get a solid start on it. Sorry to delay my thoughts on world-building, but I guarantee I will still be doing it for at least the next few days, so I will share some of my strategies next week.

Hard at work in the woods
Hard at work in the woods(ish)

Be well everyone, and enjoy these first few weeks of fall!!! Any fall plans, apple picking, haunted houses, etc, for anyone??

❤ Maddy

And one last shot of this glorious place!!
One last shot of this glorious place!!! Happy almost October!

Back to the Windy City (Briefly)

Hello all! Hope everyone is enjoying this lovely, last official day of summer. Tomorrow is the equinox and officially the last day of fall… which is a bittersweet thought for me. On one hand, summer is my favorite season of all… on the other, fall is a darn close second.

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But really, what can beat being able to eat peach and berry cobbler for breakfast, with your book, out in middle of this sunny greenery??

So while a tiny part of me can’t wait for soups and boots and sweaters and leaves and apple picking, the rest of me will soak up the last few rays of the summer sun with a shameless grin. And in keeping with that/in commemoration of my favorite season I am going to sprinkle this post with picture highlights of this summer. Enjoy!

Lake Michigan, the weekend of the air show!
Lake Michigan, the weekend of the air show!

Life: As alluded to last week (okay fine, as I was shouting over social media to anyone listening or not) I had an absolutely fabulous time at my “cabin in the woods.”

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Woods!

Being out west, in the middle of mountains, with clear air, plenty of hikes/outdoors available, and no life demands pressing down on my calendar was nothing short of amazing. I cleared my head, I read, I breathed that beautiful fresh air deeply, and… I wrote. A lot.

With Bambi to keep me company :-)
With Bambi to keep me company 🙂

Being out there was so needed, so inspiring, and so good for my soul. Also, thanks Amanda for hanging out with me/saving me from complete hermitdom!

And for taking me around to everything from hikes to bookstores to amazing ice cream!
And for taking me around to everything from hikes to bookstores to amazing ice cream!

Reading: So I may or may not have stayed up wayyyyy too late one of my last nights in the “cabin” reading Queen of Shadows… Like, definitely not until the sky looked like this:

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….but what a gorgeous dawn!

Oops. Sorry, but not really at all sorry because that book was amazing and had me on a wild and deathgrip-on-book-level-of-suspense-like roller coaster until the very. last. page.

I won’t risk spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the series (if you like fantasy at all, DO!/where have you been the last few years if you haven’t??) but I’ll just say that once again, Sarah Maas doesn’t disappoint. QoS had me hooked, heart racing, until the end. And mourning the fact that I have to wait another year for the fifth book. Seriously, trying not to think about that part!!

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On another note, a beautiful Chicago day – and a bench fit for reading.
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And a skyline view from the lake!

Writing: Ahhh so much to say, coming off this fabulous week of writing nonstop, but I’ll focus on one main thought for now, namely: getting deeper with main characters. This is something I spent a lot of time doing the past two weeks.

***Non-writers: feel free to skip this part, as it might be boring! Though of course you’re welcome to give it a look :-).

So, as promised last week, here’s a glimpse into how I go to deeper levels with my characters (not new characters – old, familiar ones who I’ve already been working with for a while). Last week in particular I was focusing on my main character, Partho.

Even though I’ve been writing books (three) in large part from his perspective for the last year and a half (and planning his story for longer than that), I realized that in some ways, I know his backstory much less than I do the backstories of other characters who play far smaller roles. I had always assumed I knew his so well, it wasn’t necessary, but I finally decided that this assumption and lack of fleshing out his formative years up until the main story starts was unfair to him, and that my story could only get stronger from my knowing him even better.

So, with this decided, I set out to dive deeper into Partho and his past than I ever have before. How, you may ask, did I go deeper? I’m a big fan of trying lots of methods when in doubt, so I tried a few, namely:

  • I talked to myself! More than usual…. But actually! I literally talked to myself, as I tried out voice memos this past week.
    • Why I tried it: I’m an auditory learner in many ways, but I also think I need a combination of different methods – so talking out loud (for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour an half) while also scribbling ideas in my notebook sounded like it might help me sort out the knots I’d had trouble working out solely in my head/on paper.
    • Example: One convo with self went something like this – “Okay, so today I want to talk about Partho and the most pivotal moments of his childhood. Different ideas I’m toying with – A) The time his brother comes to work at the forge for a day, and it’s a disaster B) The times that Maignee comes home late and he’s still up listening to stories C) Confrontation with a magistrate at mandated kingdom lessons apprenticeship…” And then I talked out all those options, letting them take me wherever they did (sometimes far off original topic, but I went with it!).
    • Verdict: I loved this method! Definitely going to use it again. And ended up using it for general plot planning as well.
  • Another method I’ve used before and tried again: writing memories/backstory in first person.
    • Why I tried it: like I mentioned, I’ve tried this approach before and it’s worked well for me. Something about heaving to tell a character’s story through their own eyes, even if it’s in a child’s voice, helps me really get into their head.
    • Example: In Partho’s case, I ended up writing a story he is telling to his mother, still as a child, about an encounter he had with one of the magistrates teaching lessons about their kingdom.
    • Verdict: I’m still having trouble getting into first person with Partho for some reason, but that struggling through was helpful. I definitely need to try it again some more.
  • Last thing I tried was poetry!
    • Why I tried it: I love playing around with new mediums! Even if they don’t lead to anything that will see the light of day, new styles can sometimes help bring back my “play” mentality and spark some magic.
    • Example: Seriously, I just composed an impromptu, terrible set of sonnets spoken about Partho.
    • Verdict: I always love this method, and it definitely helped this time too!

Okay, that’s all for now! Hope this was helpful/at all interesting. Writers – how do you get deeper/more in touch with your characters? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Up next week: diving into world building with a vengeance! Be well all,

❤ Maddy

Last one I swear! Buckingham Fountain with the city behind it.
Last one I swear! Buckingham Fountain with the city behind it. Life is excellent. That’s all.

Top 10 Book Challenge

Eeek! I am SO late in posting and I have yet to publish my top ten books as promised. So – very short update today, and then onto the top 10 book challenge – thanks Janella for nominating me!

Quick life/reading/writing update: Summer in Chicago is still glorious (if cooling down a little – which does NOT mean summer is over – denialdenialdenial no shame), I went to Ch1Con two weeks ago (which was amazing! lots of cool authors and young writers and readers, discussing being a young author of YA, and met some more local Chicago writers!), read some awesome Christina Lauren (NA romance about a dancer and a charming french boy), and am still in round 2 of revisions (haha, big surprise – but I have made some progress). And that, friends, is what we call a speed update, as well as a heck of a run on sentence. You’re welcome. Now onto some of my favorite books!

So the point of the challenge is to come up with the 10 books (or series) that have most influenced you. I will shamelessly steal Janella’s idea and add a few bonus books at the end, but keeping the more detailed explanations for top 10. Also shamelessly stealing Janella’s rules:

1. No two books by the same author!

2. But, you can count a series as one book!

3. Also, this isn’t really a rule, but we’re listing our books in chronologically order, which I think is super cool! 😀 <<< Sorry, I am definitely going to bend this rule! I read these series so spread out over years of childhood, I can’t even try to tell you which came first. Ah well.

Ready, set, GO!

1. Nancy Drew – I loved this series! I knew it was a bit dated even at the time… but the wit, the puzzle-solving, and the thrill of figuring out a mystery for yourself as you’re reading hooked me to this series at a young age. For a while, I thought mystery was my main genre, all because of Nancy Drew. Fierce females taking charge and taking dow bad guys? Thank you, early intro to strong heroines!

2. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) – Intro to badass heroines, part 2. I loved these four books, and wish there had been more. They basically start as every classic fairytale turned on its head, thanks to a willful princess who wants no part of tedious court life and absconds to live with dragons, then her story takes on a life of its own. Magic, living within dragon politics, adventure, dry, witty humor… Patricia Wrede turned me on to the idea of making your own style and creating the new normal within a genre you already love.

3. Ella Enchanted – So I’m pretty sure this was one of the first books I read, and reread, and reread, probably at least five times. It’s also a twisted fairytale (loosely based on Cinderella) but also definitely takes its own life. The big twist – Ella’s fairy godmother is not all she’s cracked up to be, and ends up cursing her at birth. This story takes you so deep into Ella’s mind, her heart, her inner struggle against her curse of obedience, all woven into a fairytale, fantasy setting, filled with ogres and palaces and evil stepmothers. This book definitely helped turn me on to fantasy, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

4. Cry, the Beloved Country – Read this book in middle school, and it is still one of my favorites. Fun fact – my poor copy is falling apart, and I’ve taped the last 50 pages back into the book several times, probably because they contain one of my favorite/most reread passages of all time. It deals with apartheid in South Africa, and more particularly, two fathers who grapple with loss and the disparate poverty and racism that affects them on deeply personal levels, relating to their sons. This book challenged my perception of right and wrong, and even more so, forgiveness and healing – both relationships and an entire nation. Since I’m being incredibly vague here to not ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it (DO!) here’s a snippet of said favorite passage.

“For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emanciptation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.”

5. Inkheart – First of all, Cornelia Funke is an incredible writer, and I would probably read anything by her just for her prose that flows like a painting – and that’s after it’s been translated from her first language, German! But this book (and the Inkheart Trilogy) in particular had a big effect on me – sparking my imagination, my taste in books, and ultimately, my writing. The book is about a girl and her father who can read characters out of books – and read people of our world into them. For a book nerd, this book is paradise. Each chapter starts with a great book quote, we delve into the possibility of being thrown into our fantasy worlds, and we also visit an amazing castle (library castle) in northern Italy. Seriously, I come back to this book a lot – it has sparked many of my own ideas, and influenced my current WIP considerably.

6. The Outsiders – Another middle school read, and another long time favorite of mine. S.E. Hinton follows the story of a group of boys growing up on the fringes of society in a large city in the 60s. There was so much about this story that stuck with me, and a few images from the novel hit me so vividly, 10+ years later I still can’t get them out of my head. S.E. Hinton taught me poignancy and vivid, heart-achingly relatable characters are possible to achieve in very few words – and that they make a story stick with you, long after you put it down.

7. Dragon Riders of Pern – I also read these books in middle school, even though they definitely have adult elements (oops)… but I couldn’t put them down. So often I am writing, and I think of Anne McCaffrey and send a silent thank you for the example she gave me of incredible world-building and balancing a huge range of characters, storylines, and often multi-generational timelines. I won’t even try to explain the series here, it is so vast and complex, but suffice it to say she is regarded as the “Mother of Science Fiction” – and she really did create a society on an alternate planet, with dragons, in a believable, incredibly well-explained way. I love these characters, I love the series… and I know I have been so influenced by these books as well. I would pick up any of them for a reread any day (and probably lose the day to a whirlwind reading frenzy), and I regularly do – they never get old to me!

8. Lord of the Rings – Speaking of world-building… I’m not sure there’s much I can say about Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit that isn’t already known. World-building? Let’s talk about 10+ years of writing a series, using the history and language knowledge of one’s Oxford professor brain, and creating multiple languages, as well as additional books on myth and legend and background story to supplement your book. That level of dedication to one’s story, one’s world, inspires me daily to keep going deeper. Aside from that, I’m in love with so many parts of this story, and probably half of the characters. For my current WIP in particular, I’ve gone back to LOTR to study the masterful way Tolkien weaves many characters and their diverging storylines together, managing their separate paths and their ultimate convergence.

9. Circle of Magic – Tamora Pierce was a gateway for me in more than one way. First, she got me hooked on fantasy. Second, she got me started on dreaming up my own stories. I think I had vaguely inserted myself into books before reading Circle of Magic (a key trademark of early writers, I’ve come to learn), but I’d never created my own part and storyline within those books. Something about Circle of Magic sparked that story-creating urge within me, and I would literally spend hours dreaming up my own stories within her world – aka, my earlier fan-fiction! Also, I got to meet Tammy in person this May at the RT convention… and I think my heart stopped a little/I stammered something incoherent about how her books helped get me through middle school, and she was amazing and… fangirl moment to the extreme!! She is incredible. And a legend. Enough said.

10. Harry Potter – There’s a reason I saved this for last. It probably had something to do with hoping I’d have talked myself silly by now and wouldn’t have enough energy left to embarrassingly sobfest/fangirl myself all over the screen about what Harry Potter meant to me. Ha. Ha. #wishfulthinking. So here we go (note: skip the following if you’re happier under the delusion that I’m not a total nerd/Potterhead/gushing fan over HP. Otherwise, sob along with me).

Harry Potter really did get me through the precarious, painful ages of 8-15. In fact it got me through a lot of bumps long after that, and still gets me through life. Shameless confessions time: I was, and still am, that kid. The one who waited at midnight every year for the new one and ignored the world until she’d finished reading the book, no matter what vacation/camp/life tried to get in the way (1-3 days of nose-to-book, usually). The one who read each book at least seven times, because each time a new one came out, she read them all once or twice (usually twice) in the months preceding the new release. The one who could tell you the latest theories about the initials R.A.B. (post book 6 release and speed read) and discuss the significance of anyone from Harry to Dumbledore to Arabella Fig.

I was the kid who wrote Harry Potter fan-fiction (literally before I knew fan fiction existed, it’s apparently just a gut reaction for certain nerd type, writing inclined, kids to do this as soon as they read Harry Potter 17 times and still need more). And years later, when I was dreaming of careers/future life plans (read: desperately searching for a life calling as my graduation date crept closer and closer), I turned to my oldest source of center. I reread all seven books, and then reread my fan fiction. And you know what? I remembered. I remembered why I’d fallen in love with writing all those years ago, and I realized that fire had never died. It was just waiting, a glowing ember, for me to come back and rekindle it. I did. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for all you’ve given me, and dreamers everywhere. You’ve made all the difference for me.

Now, onto tags! I nominate my wonderful fellow writer friends/log buddies Anna Leighton and Stacey Campbell! Good luck 🙂 .

Intro Freeze-Ups and #HermitLife Aspirations

Life: Hi! SO….. sadly (from #HermitLife point of view), life was once again full of social fun things this past week. I know, I know, the weird writer life of craving hermitness is odd, but true! So on the upside – spent some time downtown, spent time with awesome friends, and had barbecue/fireworks/brunch madness. But on the downside… Not quite as much time as I would have liked writing.

But WHYYY do I have to leave the cave?!??
But WHYYY do I have to leave the cave?!?? #totallynotmelodramatic

But (and I know this is going to sound terrible that I’m viewing this as a good thing, but bear with me) my mom’s car broke down last week (sorry mom, I know you’re still mourning!), so she needs mine to get to work, soooo I’m stuck at home, and now I have that awesome excuse to not be pulled out of the cave!!!! <<< Yes, you can laugh, but no shame ;-). Love excuses to live the #HermitLife!

Reading: Finished Erica O’Rourke’s Torn Trilogy, which culminated in Bound – I loved this series. Such well fleshed out characters who I totally felt invested in, a super real love triangle, and it was overall a superbly planned out trilogy. Can’t wait to read her next series – Dissonance and Resonance (which was just released). She’s also a local Chicago author so I get to see her at her launch party at The Bookstall on Sunday!!!

Best combo - double triscuit(!) with bruschetta and Bound :D.
Best combo – double triscuit(!) with bruschetta and Bound :D.

Writing: Oh dear. But really. So to attempt to not be overly melodramatic (haha ,not my normal style if you haven’t noticed)… this round of revisions is going better than last round. I read through my printed (still smiling about that :)) manuscript last week, took notes, totally tore the book apart and put it back together again. I ended up cutting more than ten scenes and adding a few as well.

Grand total – I now have 50 scenes, and 20 of those need to be written from scratch or heavily rewritten. So I have my work cut out for me. And while I was totally psyched to be jumping back in… attempting to write a new intro had been a mess of a five day disaster. I now have like… seven? ten? different versions of a first chapter, and I’m not happy with any of them.

My life, trying to write an intro like whyyyy (cue return to normal, melodramatic self).
Me trying to write an intro like whyyyy (cue return to normal, melodramatic self).

So I think I’m going to jump to another chapter and deal with my beginning later! And hopefully it’s just the pressure of writing a fabulous intro to pull in all future agents/publishers/readers that is giving me writer’s block, and not a me problem – but we’ll see how jumping around works tomorrow! Writer friends – have you had intro rewriting freeze-up before?? What do you do about it? Would love to hear your thoughts! Until next time,

❤ Maddy