Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Obsession: The Hunger Games Trilogy

I. Am. Obsessed.

The Hunger Games. If you haven't read this book, don't walk, speed to your nearest bookstore and pick it up, along with the second book in the series, Catching Fire. The third book in the trilogy, rumored to be titled, The Victors, won't be out until September of 2010, but trust me when I tell you that you will read and re-read the first two books again and again before the third book is released.

The Hunger Games is about smart, independent, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen. When her twelve-year-old sister is called to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death among 24 teenagers with only one winner, Katniss immediately demands to take her sister's place. In volunteering, she essentially agrees to a death sentence. I loved Katniss's character and the underlying love story in the book left me wanting more ... and more ... and more. The suspense carries through each page and the brutality of the games is countered by the fact that the characters are so willing to give their lives in exchange for the lives of the people they love.

I finished The Hunger Games and immediately picked up Catching Fire. I read both books in about 10 hours, then turned around and started reading them again. It's been a very long time since I've read a book that made me think so hard about: life, death, love, motivations, repercussions, symbolism, and how I treat the people in my life, both strangers and loved ones alike.

I love the idea behind The Hunger Games so much that I even carved a Mockingjay into my Halloween pumpkin. I'm trying to figure out what I own that's bribe-worthy enough for me to get an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) of the third book in the series. The book is also being made into a movie. Suzanne Collins is writing the script, so the movie should stick pretty close to the book and I'm sure it will be fantastic!

I'm amazed by the writing and story in the first two books and can't wait to see how Suzanne Collins wraps it up in book 3. The Hunger Games series is one of my new obsessions and will always be at the top of my favorite books list.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best Writing Advice

Ernest Hemingway said that every great writer has to have an excellent shit detector. My best friend, Amazing Ashley, is mine. I met Ashley during our freshman year of college when the fates/student life office decided to put our dorm rooms across from each other. And don't let the best friend title fool you; Ashley is now a fantastic English Literature Professor and she's not afraid to tell people exactly what she thinks.

Ashley was gracious enough to take the time to be one of my beta editors for Eternal Starling. When she finished her massive edit on the manuscript, she sat me down and said something to the effect of: do you want the truth, or something more pleasant? She said I had a good foundation, but unless I made changes, there was no way the book would get published. I've heard that some people get upset when they hear criticism about their manuscripts, I'm not one of those people. In fact, I was thrilled that I had someone who was willing to tell me the truth--and someone who believed in my writing skills enough to know I could fix the problems and make my book worth publishing.

As Ashley went through the editing process with me, she taught me a lot of things about being a better writer. But the most important thing she told me was that I need to know my plot and my mythology as well as I know my characters. It was a light bulb moment for me. When I sit down to write I can easily get in my characters heads. I know exactly what they're doing and their motivations. However, I'd never thought of needing to know the world I've created in the same way. Ashley told me that the majority of the problems with my book could be solved if I just got to know my world better.

I spent the next month asking and answering questions about my plot and revising to try and make my world creation as in-depth as my character building. The result is a completely different book than the draft Ashley edited. Now my plot is stronger, my world makes more sense, and in answering the questions about the world I had built, I was able to make a clear outline for the next two books in the trilogy. Ashley's advice helped me to become a better writer and I can't thank her enough for it.

The Fringe Benefits of Failure

I was feeling the need for some inspiration today and decided to re-read the speech J.K. Rowling gave to the 2008 graduates of Harvard. It's called, The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. If you haven't read it, you must!

Here's the link:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Writing and Publishing, It's Not A Speedy Endeavor

Occasionally when I tell people I wrote a book I get a comment like this: "That’s cool. So now you just send it somewhere and they print the book and put it on the shelves at the bookstore, right?" *Sigh* If only it were that simple. I then go into a 15 minute explanation of the publishing process. Aprilynne Pike has a fabulous post about this subject on her blog But Aprilynne's post deals with what happens after you have an agent and sign a contract with a publisher. I thought I would post about what happens before you have that contract.

First, you have to write the book. In my case, I started Eternal Starling as a way to relieve the stress of wedding planning. I was pretty stressed because I wrote a 350 page novel and outlined the next two books in the series in three months, writing only at night. I started writing in June of 2008 and was finished with the first draft in September of 2008. Yep, only three months to write a 95,000 word book; three months, and it showed. I was using writing as an outlet to deal with wedding frustration and the thought of trying to get the book published didn’t come until after I started getting feedback from people I had let read the early drafts.

Once I committed to getting published I spent hours on Google trying to get as much information about publishing as possible. I started following several agent blogs and began the horrible first drafts of my query letter. I'm a perfectionist so I chose 15 beta readers, including one who is an English Literature Professor and another who is a fabulous copyeditor, to give me opinions and help me improve my book. The thing that kicked my butt was the editing process. Waiting for my beta readers and editors, as well as doing revisions for the book took me another eleven months. Seven drafts later and over a year after I had started writing the book, I finally began sending query letters to agents. Even then I wasn't done editing and don't think I ever really will be. I started sending queries in July of 2009 and decided to send the letters in rounds so I could improve the query as I received feedback from agents. I'm not finished sending query letters and I'm still waiting to hear back from a lot of agents, which is pretty normal. Getting published is like a really long job interview with more rejection than you can imagine.

The query process goes like this:

-When your book is completely finished you send a query letter to an agent and hope you hear back from them in 2-8 weeks with a request for your partial manuscript.
-If you get the request for the partial, you send the agent your first three chapters which should be around 50 pages. Then you pray you hear back from them in 4-12 weeks with a request for a full manuscript.
-If the agent likes your partial and wants your full, you send it off with the commitment to sell them your soul if they'll decided to represent you. It takes another 4-12 weeks to get a response (the soul selling part doesn't take nearly that long).
-If the agent decides they like your book enough to represent you, you'll sign a contract with them and then you work with the agent to get the manuscript ready for the agent to try and sell to publishers.

And that's just the beginning! It's definitely not a fast process but hopefully this post will give you a better idea of how it all works. :)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Post, First Book, and Fans!

Since this is my first blog post, I wanted to commemorate it with a thank you to the wonderful people who have been supportive of my first book, Eternal Starling. I'm currently in the query letter stage as I try to find an agent and publisher, but a few of my chapters are posted on my website at

Through my website, as well as Twitter and Facebook, I've heard from so many supportive people who have told me how much they like my book and can't wait to read the rest. This is ... astounding. Seriously. It completely shocks me and I'll tell you why. I’m a writer so that means I spend a good deal of time questioning whether I have any talent at all. My mom doesn’t understand this and believes I’m the best writer in the world … again, this is my mom, and she’s a little biased. The point is: when I get an email, or a message on Facebook or Twitter from someone who likes my book, it makes me feel like a freaking rock star.

I want to give a shout out to all the people around the world who have joined my Eternal Starling Facebook Fan Page, followed me on Twitter, emailed me to tell me they can't wait to read the rest of the book, and to the people who are just reading who I haven't even met. You are truly wonderful and make the writing process even more enjoyable for me. Honestly, each email or note I get from a fan makes me feel like a four-year-old girl who just got her first Malibu Barbie. And knowing my book is giving you enjoyment makes me think that to some tiny degree, maybe my mom isn’t crazy. So thank you!!!