Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ally Condie's Summerlost Release-Day Blitz AND GIVEAWAY!

I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of Ally Condie's new middle-grade debut, Summerlost, which releases today. And let me tell you: It. Is. Beautiful.  

Summerlost hits shelves TODAY!!! I'm participating in a blog blitz, hosted by Word Spelunking and Penguin Kids, to celebrate the release and spread the word about this gorgeous book.

(And yes, they're doing a giveaway!)

Ally Condie, author of the internationally bestselling Matched trilogy, has crafted a tale to remember. Summerlost follows 12-year-old Cedar's grapple with the loss of her father and younger brother to an accident a year ago. As she settles into life in her mother's small hometown for the summer, she befriends Leo, and together they become absorbed in uncovering the truths behind the historically mysterious death of a local Shakespearian actor.

Themes of life and death are subtly woven together to give the reader a very moving and realistic portrait of grief, and in particular, how life is able to move forward after the loss of someone you love.

Here's the info, including a letter from Ally Condie and the giveaway link ...


A Spring 2016 Kids' Indie Next List Top 10 Pick!

Named one of Publishers Weekly’s Most Anticipated Children’s and YA Books of Spring 2016

« “Condie (Matched) strikes a deep emotional chord with this coming-of-age story.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

« “Multiple, seemingly random details, including a family of turkey vultures that now roost outside Cedar’s window, an absurd soap opera narrative of a woman buried alive, and Leo’s quest for a trip with his father, coalesce into metaphors that help Cedar make sense of her grief and the life she now has to look forward to. Thoughtful, poetic chapter endings guide readers new to psychological depth toward meaningful connections between plot events and thematic reflections.” – BCCB

“A moving tale of friendship and loss. I loved these characters—I wish we could have been friends when I was a kid.” –Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Five Kingdoms series

“Ally Condie’s first middle grade book might also be my favorite out of ALL her books to date. Summerlost is a story packed with nostalgia, heart, and gorgeous prose.” – The Novel Novice

“A nuanced portrait of grief deeply grounded in the middle-school mind-set.” – Booklist

“Honest, lovely, and sad.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A sweet, heartfelt story.” – School Library Journal

“Achingly good.” – Summer Laurie, Books Inc.

Letter from Ally:

Dear Readers,

I think most of us have had our hearts broken. Sometimes we can see it coming, and sometimes it comes down with the unexpected force of a sudden gale of wind or a rising of waters that we thought were still and safe. Loss is universal to human experience, but the way we each feel and recover is one of the most personal things we do.

In Summerlost, Cedar is dealing with the loss of her father and younger brother. And my intent was to show how hard their deaths are for her. But this is also a book about the healing power of friendship. Most of us have been broken-hearted; I hope that most of us have also discovered the miracle of friendships that were just what we needed. Cedar and Leo’s friendship is based on someone I met when I was twelve. Like Leo, my friend was fun and liked to enlist me in crazy adventures (although we never gave a secret guided tour of our town the way they do in Summerlost). And, like Leo, he thought I was wonderful and of worth at a time when I needed it most.

SUMMERLOST is my attempt to pay tribute both to the pain we feel and the friendships that save us. Thank you so much for supporting this book, and for your willingness to give Cedar’s story a try. I hope it makes you think of a wonderful friend of your own, whether that is someone you met in the pages of a favorite book or outside, in the world where it is often hard and beautiful to live.

Best wishes and happy reading always,
Ally Condie


Buy Summerlost:

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Read an Excerpt:

Host: Word Spelunking and Penguin Kids

Word Spelunking:
@WordSpelunker ; https://twitter.com/WordSpelunker

Penguin Kids:
@PenguinKids ; https://twitter.com/penguinkids

Monday, March 28, 2016

Characters You Hate to Love

With two Trekkie parents, it was hard to grow up ignoring Star Trek.  

We didn't go to conventions or anything. And my parents didn't have the costumes. But several models of Enterprise have adorned my dad's desk since forever ago, and both of my parents are wild about tribbles. 

As for me, I fought the obsession for a while, but have finally succumbed. Hubby & I are drooling with anticipation at the prospect of a new series premiering in JANUARY 2017!!!

But while we zipped through Enterprise & Voyager together in the past year, we're currently slogging our way through Deep Space 9.  *sigh*  We tried to get through DS9 a few years ago and got bored somewhere in the middle of the first or second season. We're just starting the third season, though, and it's finally getting better. 

Today I began to reflect on why we kept watching, because both of us found the first season slow and predictable. True, there's the fact that we're fans of the other Star Trek spin-offs--and that's huge. But brand loyalty will only go so far. For me, the single biggest thing that kept me going back each night throughout the first season was Quark. 

This is him:

Deep Space 9 takes place on a space station hundreds of years in the future. The station was placed at one end of a wormhole somewhere near Earth; the other end leads to deep space (the Gamma quadrant). So all kinds of interesting travelers visit the station. The commander is a black single dad with a teenage son (the first black Starfleet captain!); the first officer is an angry rebel from a nearby planet; and their security officer is a shape-shifter, the only known one of his kind (at first). But it's obvious how you're supposed to feel about each of these characters. In the first season (in my humble opinion), they're often face-value and have few secrets that impact their lives for more than a single episode. 

Quark, however, is the station's bartender, and a member of the fictional race called the Ferengi. The Ferengi are notorious throughout the quadrant, known as profit-grubbing mysoginists with giant, sensitive earlobes. 

So why the heck would a profit-grubbing mysoginist keep me watching a TV show?

That's an excellent question. But he is--against all odds--my favorite character. Unlike the others, he frequently exhibits layers of depth. Though he lives up to Ferengi stereotypes most of the time, he surprises me every so often by hiding a fugitive or giving up a cloaking device for free when he could've garnered a huge profit. He's the character I hate to love. 

This is a good lesson in writing, too. What keeps a reader reading what you've written? Don't underestimate the importance of characters that surprise. Because, even if a reader likes the characters in a book, even if they identify with them, if the character only follows expectations, there's little reason to keep reading. There are no hidden depths for the character to surprise us with. As a reader, I love finding out that a character I wrote off as a good guy was actually working for the enemy all along, or finding out that the bad guy actually has a moral compass that's been hidden inside a troubled past all along. 

This goes double for love interests. Bad guy/good guy fall in love? It's a common theme, but there's a reason for it--it works! Show me a love interest that isn't quite reliable or carries a game-changing secret, and I'm there. I need to know what drives him/her. I want to know whether he/she will overcome this secret and commit to a relationship with someone, or whether it'll be the undoing of them both. 

Show me a character that I hate at first, but begrudgingly am forced to love. Change my mind. Show me depth, little by little. Set me up and win me over. 

I'll keep watching DS9. After all, it made me love a Ferengi. 

(images: funny-pictures.picphotos.net, fanpop.com, thepropmaster.com)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Editorial Tips From the Garage

I killed my first line today.  *sniff*

And I don't mean that like, Haaaayyy, girl. I'm killin' this line.
If only.

A beautiful first line, it sparkled with foreshadowing of my book's essential themes.  At least in my mind.  Problem was, it just didn't fit the scene.  Actually, I'm not sure it fit the voice of the book.  And I've tried so hard to make it work.  I really have.  And I've been in denial about it.  But finally, after receiving some expert advice (thanks Michael Mammay!), I've killed it.  In a very non-celebratory kind of way. 

Killing part of a manuscript is HARD.  Killing parts of our lives is, too. 

Sometimes life hands us cruel ironies.

While my book was off with beta readers recently, the hubby & I took advantage of both that and his break to sort through our stuff.  See, we moved back to California (from Iowa) almost two years ago, and stored A LOT of stuff in my grandparents' garage to get our Iowa house ready for showing.  Since then, that stuff has stayed there.

And stayed there.

My grandfather died last fall, and my grandmother moved out a few months ago.  The house has got to go soon, and so does our stuff.  With the clock ticking on us, we've dragged our feet, reluctant because we've known, due mostly to a lack of storage space currently, that most of the stuff would not belong to us anymore when we were done.

And in the midst of sorting and cleaning and breaking up with my stuff, I realized that I took a break from editing on paper (well, screen) only to edit with objects.  Aaaaaaaarrgh!!!!!

And they are BOTH hard in the SAME ways!  But it's so, so necessary to kill things that are no longer useful or meaningful.  (Not people.  Don't go killing people.)

With that in mind, here are some very basic manuscript editing tips brought to you straight from an overstuffed garage: 

(1) Set it down.  You've heard it before.  Take a break, and your ms will read differently when you've got fresh eyes.  Just like, if you have your stuff in storage for two years and you come back to it, you find that a lot of it just makes you say, "Why did I keep that?"  And you'll dump the broken cassette tapes and crumpled high school history papers.

(2) Read it out loud.  Another truism, that I scoffed at at first.  Then I started reading my ms out loud to my daughter, and realized a whole bunch of things that were still wrong with it.  In the garage, this is where you say out loud, "I own a coat whose buttons I have safely tucked into the pocket one by one as they've fallen off so I can sew them back on someday."  When you realize what you're saying, you'll then say: "Self, you're a deluded idiot.  You've got the sewing skills of an antelope, and you've already replaced the coat anyway.  Huck it."  Reading aloud makes you face uncomfortable truths like that.

(3) Use a tool.  Or more than one.  A friend recommended Rayne Hall's The Word-Loss Diet to me, and it's already changing the way I write.  Every fledgling writer should use this book.  It's short; it's followed its own advice.  And it holds your hand as you get rid of the extra words we all put into our rough drafts: "said," "look," "smile," "turn," "see," etc.  In the garage, our tool was a system.  We'd screen each item:  Is there need for this item in my life now?  Does it have strong sentimental value?  Does it have all its working parts?  Is it free of rat pee?  Was it in a box that's been sealed?  You get my meaning. 

(4) Get feedback.  This one's a must.  Not convinced?  Okay, who do you hope is going to read your book?  If it's just you, then you're right, you don't need anybody else.  Otherwise, you've got to have true, fresh eyes on it.  Meet people on Twitter, take a writing class, join a writers' group.  Pay an editor (for content, not just style, if they're you're only reader--though I wouldn't advise that, either).  I'm still working on this one, too.  And I don't think that ever stops.  But honesty to your face is priceless.  Find someone (better yet--multiple someones!) to read it and tell you what they really think.  In the garage, get your spouse to tell you that the shoes you love have been worn into nothing and it's time for them to go. 

(5) Keep a (small) graveyard.  Two things in the garage were too hard for me to get rid of.  I'll likely never use either one again.  But I kept them.  First item: my 3-inch-thick folder of college coursework from Syntax I.  It's a trophy.  That class was the bootcamp of my major, and I'm still proud to have made it through the grueling quarter that I took it.  Second item: the bag of cloth diapers.  *sigh* Both of our kids are out of diapers, and we're 99% sure we're done having kids.  Nobody I know wants them.  But they were expensive (they're the fancy, modern kind), and represent hours of hard work.  And I'm so proud that I diapered my kids in cloth, at least for some of their babyhoods.  So the folder and the diapers, completely against common sense, stay.  With my manuscript, when I have to delete lines or sections I love, I keep them in a separate file.  Then I can still check on them and be proud of them. 

And so, with all of that in mind, my first line will join the graveyard...

The Mars International Research Dome was both sanctuary and prison for almost everyone Tian had ever known. 

There.  Now I can still visit it. 

What kinds of things have been hard for you to get rid of in your manuscripts?