Monday, June 30, 2014

Weekly Update: 6-30-14 Big Bear and Vegas

This week has been full of traveling: the small, day-trip sort of travel, but travel nontheless.

Last Monday, for instance, my father and I went to Big Bear, up in the San Bernardino Mountains, to research my ghost story Company. Curtis, a ghost, and Jenny, an imaginary friend, are stuck in a big house in the middle of the woods.  For the purposes of setting, I needed the house, the woods, and part of a small town. Big Bear fit the bill.

First stop was a nature hike, a nice 1.5 mile trek with numbered posts and a pamphlet full of interesting facts. Did you know, for instance, that the bark of the Jeffery pine tree has a sweet aroma that some liken to vanilla? Or that live Western Juniper trees can sometimes grow out of dead ones, twisting together into a single entity? I kicked around the loose beige soil, listening to birds sing "cheecheechee" or "Tweer Tweer." Once I saw a baby rattlesnake. It side-winded into bushes, its tummy buldging.

After that, I took photographs of houses and churches. We had lunch by the lake and walked around town. The last time I'd been to Big Bear was at least ten years ago. For some reason, I assumed the town would be slowly dying. Ha! It was newly painted, full of tourists, and chock full of events. In fact, it was far too interesting for my novel. I'll have to fictionalize the place.

I spent the week in Victorville, furiously editing The Changelings, hanging out with friends.

Then on Saturday, my mom, aunt, uncle, and cousin all traveled to Vegas to visit my Aunt Mary, the sister of my grandma. We passed around old photographs and chatted. Usually, we spend the night, but this time, we decided to drive home to save money for the buffet at Caeser's Palace.

It took 97 minutes just to get in, but when we did, wow, it was big. I tried lamb for the first time. I also ate a wagyu slider, truffled potatoes, various dim sum, sushi, hot crab, and a slice of goat cheese and mushroom pizza. My family developed a system of dividing the tiny portions so we got a little bite of everything. For dessert, my cousin and I split churros, a chocolate molten cake, a strawberry cupcake, mango pudding, and a red velvet whoopie pie. Then my mom and my aunt passed around creme brulee (green tea and regular). I let them eat my macaroons.

So that was my week, and it was fun. Lots of good memories.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cover Art Update

I got a lot of feedback on covers for my novel, The Changelings. This is my final decision. I've asked the artist for a few changes: her eyes greener, her hairy messier, embroidery on the coat. I'm looking forward to seeing the final version. Thanks Kaleo for all your hard work.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Weekly Update: 6-21-14 LA Arboritum

School ended this week, and I was jumping for joy. No more waking up at 5:30. No more watching the same movie five times. Freedom. Nothing's really changed, has it? Over ten years since I graduated high school and I still look forward to summer vacation.

This summer I've made plans for all sorts of free-to-cheap day trips around the SoCal area. First up was a trip to the LA Arboritum. Tuesday, June 17th was its monthly free admission day. The park opened at 9:00. My aunt and I arrived at 10:30 to find the parking lot full up and overflowing.  Those who wish to utilize parks and museums free admission days heed this warning: Get there early!

We finally parked near Westfield mall and went inside. Over three hundred peacocks freely roam the park. Their cries take many forms: crowing "awah-awah" like a raven, meowing like a cat, and crying "help me" like a lost child. I didn't expect to find so many hanging out in the shady branches of trees like, well, birds. For some reason, I always thought of peacocks as flightless. Like colorful turkeys.

We walked to the grassy knoll, passing by a hill of California wildflowers and an herb garden buzzing with bees. At the top of the hill was a giant fig tree. Many of the overripened fruit fell squishy to the ground and smelled like fruitcake. Near the fig tree sat a lotus pond. A white koi glided coyly underneath the lillypads and turtles disguised themselves as rocks.

In the coming weeks I hope to visit:

Big Bear
Newport Beach
The Getty Museum
Griffth Observatory

Stay tuned for more details.

As far as work goes, all this week I worked on editing The Changelings, especially chapters 13 and 14. I picked my cover art and spoke with the illustrator about tweaking it and got feedback from my editor. I'm making progress to publishing like a turtle, slow and steady.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Review: Anna Dressed In Blood

Book: Anna Dressed In Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: YA; Horror; Supernatural


Theseus Cassio Lowood, called Cas, hunts ghosts who won't stay dead. Wielding his father's athame, a blade that cuts the dead, he sends murderous spirits into the afterlife--again. But now he may have met his match.  Rumors tell of a daughter of Finnish immigrants whose throat was slashed on the night of her first dance, the crimson blood running into her white dress.  This is Anna Korlov--Anna Dressed In Blood. Cas knows he must face off against this powerful ghost. What he doesn't realize is that the trip to Thunder Bay will bring out a secret from his darkest past--and lead him to a love that just might give him a future.


If you like ghosts and action and want a light, fun read, this book might be a good fit. I paged through it quickly and it left me entertained. There's enough blood and profanity to gear it toward an older audience. I liked the characters well enough, especially Anna who can be horrifying and sympathetic. The story of how she became a ghost was probably the novel's strongest scene.

I couldn't find much wrong with the book, but I did wish for a little more. More mystery, more emotion, more fear. I didn't feel particularly surprised or horrified or invested in the characters. The book is told from Cas' point of view, and he's witty and sarcastic but also a bit distant. As a result, I didn't feel as emotionally engaged as I might have been.

Some explanations were hand-waved away.  The police, for example, barely pay attention to the slew of horrifically murdered bodies because they feel uncomfortable with them. Voodoo becomes central to the story, but the foundations of the practice are never laid before us. Only people from Cas' bloodline can wield the athame until all of a sudden someone else can, too. These little inconsistencies add up and chip away at my suspension of disbelief.

Then again, I'm a picky reader.  Anna Dressed In Blood is like a visit to a haunted house: spooky and fun and liberally splashed with gore. It probably won't leave you with a transcendent view of mankind, but it's a great way to maim and murder a few hours of your life.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Weekly Update: 6-14-14

In agriculture, sometimes a field needs to remain fallow in order to replenish the nutrients and bring about a more bountiful crop. In my three-month cycle, the first month of the season (September, December, March, and June) is put aside for other endeavors. As writing is not the first priority, I have time to replenish ideas.

Meaning, I get to read.

I read Anna Dressed in Blood, a book I picked up from Literary Orange.  It took me 2 months to sit down to read it and 2 days to finish. I also Beta read Debra Young's "A Useful Blind" and Michelle Knowlden's "Jack Fell Down." That, plus 5 days of subbing, kept me busy for the week.

Between watching films in English class, I did sneak in some decent brainstorming.  I'm playing with a story tentatively titled "Counterfeit Diamond," which involves an earthquake, a talking raven, and a diamond ring that gives its owner beauty while stealing her blood. Another story involves a labrynth, a set of unmarked keys, and a forgotten princess. Both stories are currently amorpheous blobs, but maybe someday they'll take shape.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Weekly Update: 6-8-14

If I ever get married, I think I'll just elope.
Yesterday was my cousin's wedding, and I was one of the bridesmaids. I helped with the potluck dinner (my cousin and I made lasagnas), set up chairs and tables, decorated, participated in a dance, and did odd jobs leading up to the ceremony. Even for a simple wedding, there's so much work and almost no way to prevent the last minute stress that descends within the last 24-hours before the ceremony. As a member of the bridal party, it was my responsiblity to delegate that stress away from the bride and groom. By the end of it, I was exhausted.
And ready for cake
The important thing, though, was that my cousin and his new wife had a good time and created memories for their new life together.  Congratulations, Mitchell and Krystal.
Aside from the wedding, I also finished up an edit of The Changelings, Chapters 1-10.  I managed to get the first third of my epic fantasy novel down to around 58,000 words, or roughly 220 pages. If I could keep up that pace, I might be able to clock in at less than 650 pages. 
I also made cards.

 As June begins, I'll have to work out a summer schedule. I have plans to do Camp Nano in July and I hope to take some day trips around So-Cal.  But one of my major goals is to work to get The Changelings published by early next year. All that's to come. So stay tuned.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Covers for The Changelings

In my weekly update, I mentioned that I received sample cover art for The Changelings, my epic fantasy.  Here they are. 
All these pictures are coutesy of Kaleo Welborn, a member of the Brea Library Writer's Club, who was gracious enough to brainstorm with me and sketch these amazing pictures in his spare time.
Five possiblities. Which do you like best?
Cover #1

Cover #2

Cover #3

Cover #4

Cover #5

In Case You Missed It: Kate Carlisle and Hannah Dennison at the Brea Library

Who: Kate Carlisle and Hannah Dennison
Where: Brea Library
When: Saturday, May 31, 2014

Please Note: The quotes are approximate.

* * *

I arrive fifteen minutes early, but there’s already a crowd filling the blue, green, and burgundy chairs. As I take my seat toward the back, I run into four or five members of my Brea Library Writer’s Group, including Kaleo, one of the founders.

The moderator kicks things off by introducing the guests, both authors of cozy mysteries.

Kate Carlisle is the author of the Bibliophile Mystery series, her latest one being The Book Stops Here. She has blond hair, clear glasses, a beige jacket, and a gold necklace. She also writes romance.

Hannah Dennison is the author of Murder at Honeychurch Hall, which is set in her native country of England.  She has brown hair, dark glasses, a white blazer, and pearls. 

The moderator gets the questions rolling, but almost immediately the audience jumps in. The library was not constructed with acoustics in mind. It’s hard to hear. I scribble down notes as best I can.  

* * *

Moderator: What made you decide to write mysteries?

Kate: I started reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, then went to James Bond and Sue Grafton. I never thought I could write a book. I thought I had to have all this education but it turned out I didn’t. It took a long time before I realized I was allowed to write.

Kate Carlisle
Hannah: For me, it was the realization that I’ve always been interested in justice. I like a mystery to have a satisfying ending—everything neatly tied up. As a kid, I loved the book where I could turn the pages and solve puzzles. I was not a natural storyteller, I was a natural liar. The truth is, I always thought my versions were much more interesting.

Audience: Where do you get your ideas?

Hannah: I read a lot of small local papers. That’s where the gems are. Everything has a story, even coming here today. So watch out!

Kate: When I first started writing, my stories didn’t have a hook. It took me a while to figure out what a hook was—so if anyone here is an aspiring author, have hope! For this series, my protagonist is a book binder. So the first thing I do is choose a book for her to work on.

Audience: Real books?
Kate: Real books. One time, my editor said, “Why don’t you use a cookbook?” Well, I couldn’t use just any cookbook. In the first place, it had to be really old.  I found one from the American Revolution. A woman came over from England, writing recipes as she went along with the soldiers. It was actually a cookbook, a journal, and a healing advisory. That book became the basis for A Cookbook Conspiracy.
Hannah Dennison

Audience: I talked to an author who she said she changed killer because her writing group guessed who it was. Do you ever do that?

Kate: I’ve had to change who the killer is because my editor likes the character and doesn’t want him to be the murderer. There’s this one character named Gabriel that my editor’s in love with.  Once I tried to hook up Gabriel with this nice girl. My editor said, “She’s not good enough for him.” Spoiler alert—they did not end up together.

Audience: I had no idea editors had so much power.

Hannah: My new series came from brainstorming with an editor in a bar for 20 minutes—and at the end of it, she gave me a contract!  It felt like a Hollywood pitch meeting.

Audience: Do you ever bring characters from first book into the others?
Hannah: In cozies—mysteries based on the Agatha Christie type of novel—the whole idea is to have a small setting, a community of people you get to know. You have to keep those characters going for the readers, weaving them in and out of the series. That’s why people read a series—these are characters you come back to see.

Kate: It’s great to tap into secondary characters. I like to pick one of the villagers and write a story around them. Of course, the first book hard to set up. You have to create a cast of characters without overwhelming your audience.

Audience: Do you expect people to read your books in order?

"The Book Stops Here" by Kate Carlisle
Kate: I don’t. Reading in the books in order gives you growth and character development—that’s fun—but the mystery is a self-contained story. And that’s kind of important to writers. How much do you explain to new readers who don’t know these characters?

Audience: What are some of the famous authors you read?

Hannah: Obviously Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, let’s see…

Kate: I just read this cozy—it was free on Amazon—it was all about a Maine clambake. It was so enjoyable. I don’t read a lot of cozies either. Sometimes I need to get away from my own genre.

Hannah: When I’m writing, I can’t read any fiction. Just nonfiction

Kate: I read romances.

Audience: What’s your writing schedule like?

Kate: I write every day. I used to get up at 5:30, write for 3 hours, and then go to work. But now that I’m writing full-time, I still get up at 5:30, but I spend that time doing business stuff—which is just a brain-sucking thing to do. Then I write for 6 hours a day. But Hannah still has a day job.
"Murder at Honeychurch Hall" by Hannah Dennison 

Hannah: I write very early in the morning. When I come to a deadline write, my writing is very eratic because it has to get done. It’s a struggle to fit in all the social, promotional stuff. I’m doing a blog tour, writing for 13 or 14 blogs. At the same time I’m finishing a fifth book.

Audience (Kaleo): Any advice for the aspiring writer?

Kate: Don’t give up.

Hannah: Follow your dreams.

Kate: Steven Spielberg told her that.

Hannah: Yes, I saw him on a plane. He said, “You’ve just got to take that leap of faith and follow your dreams.” When I started writing, I found that’s when the universe opens up. I recommend taking classes. Be wary of book writing groups—unless someone is published—it’s easy to get side-tracked and write the same thing over and over again.  Finish the manuscript, even if it’s crap.

Kate: And read. Don’t give up on the craft. Continuing education is important. Don’t think that just because you’ve got a book published you’re done learning. Being a writer is hard. There are so many other things you could be doing.

Hannah: It’s like having homework the rest of your life.

Kate: It’s the best revenge.