Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Reads: Gregor the Overlander

You may have noticed that I missed a few Fridays.  I had to take some time off in order to finish a few unusually large projects I had brewing.  Thanks for being patient while I worked through my work.

Anyway, I do a lot of confessing on this blog, and I have another one to share.  Brace yourself.

I have not read Hunger Games yet.

*waiting for you to pick your jaw off the floor*

Truth be told, I haven't felt the urge to read it yet, but I did hear that the author had written a middle-grade series before her HG success.  I did want to read that.  So I picked up the first book.  And here it is.

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Gregor the Overlander (Book 1 in the Underland Chronicles)
by Suzanne Collins

For: 8-12-year-olds

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Published: 2003

Description: When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

Why I Liked It: You should know that I really hate cockroaches.  I've lived in Texas once for a few years, so I know what real, big, ten-gallon-hat-wearing cockroaches look like.  But they are nothing compared to the roaches in this book.  So, oddly enough, I liked the roaches in this book.  And any book that can make me like roaches is a winner in my eyes.

Oh, and the adventure in this book sucked me right in.  I suppose that's a good reason to like it, too.

If you know of any other underworld adventures, please share them in the comments below. And happy weekend reading!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho Revision Retreat

Just a heads up that the SCBWI Utah/S. Idaho novel revision retreat in Ashton, Idaho still has a few spots left.  I will be there, so this is your chance to meet me in person AND work on a MG or YA novel.  And if you live relatively close to me, I have room for 5 people to head up with me in my vehicle.  That is an irresistible offer, I know.  Many long hours in an enclosed traveling box. With me.  Talking the whole way.

It brings tears to your eyes, I know.

If you're interested in learning more, here are the details from the source, my ever lovable RA:

2012 Novel Revision Retreat

Sponsored by the Utah/Southern Idaho Region of the SCBWI

Join us in beautiful Ashton, Idaho, along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River at Mesa Falls Lodge

October 4, 5, 6, and 7, 2012with
Kendra LevinFacilitating
Kendra is an editor with Viking and a life coach for writers. She will provide sessions about revision, the writing life, and other matters pertinent to novel writing.

Participants will also be paired with three others. You will read all three manuscripts prior to the retreat and provide written critiques. You will also meet with this group regularly throughout the weekend to comment on one another's manuscripts.

There will also be time to write and revise.

Space limitations allow for only 12 participants in this intensive revision retreat.
You MUST have a completed draft of a novel (either middle grade or young adult). A first draft is still a draft. DEADLINE to submit your draft is August 25. (Elissa's note: this has been extended to Sept. 6th.) Send your full manuscript in an attachment to You will then receive three manuscripts by Sept. 1 that you will read before the retreat.

Registration is now open. Cost is $450 for non-members of SCBWI, $400 for members. All lodging, food, and sessions are included in this fee.(If you join SCBWI before registering, you will receive member price.) You may pay using the PayPal buttons here. Or you may mail a check made out to SCBWI Utah/southern Idaho to: 1809 North 7th St., Boise ID 83702.

Please do come!  And pass this on to anyone else who might be interested.  Thanks!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Organizing Your Writing Life: Tips from a Disorganized Organizer

Not my office, but it could be. Flickr photo by EvelynGiggles.

Confession time: I'm still working on being an organized person.

Now, some of you might laugh hysterically at this.  On the surface I seem to be the most organized person on the planet.  Just the fact that I can do everything I say I do in my About Me section on this blog proves that I have mastered those pesky organizational skills, right?

But the truth of the matter is that there is still a lot of room for improvement.  The last few years have taught me much about organizing people and large projects, but I still can't file to save my life.  (My piles work for me...most of the time.)  And you do not want to take a look at the rest of the disorganized house I live in.  Trust me on this.  I blame the children.  And The Container Store for charging so much for their cool organizational tools that I can't afford most of them.

Anyway, I've always been fascinated with the idea of organization.  I am one of those people who buys every magazine that lists storage tips on the cover.  I routinely check organizational books out of the library (my favorite to date: Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern).  I even attempt to organize my life every so often (with mixed results).

Buy this book! 
This bring me to the point of this entry: I think having an organized writing life is important, too.  Being organized with my writing is a task I am working on perfecting.  In fact, here are a few tips I'd like to share about having an organized writing life (okay, they are the things I'm working on myself):

1. Make writing a priority.

What time of the day you write or how much you write during each session isn't as important as the fact that you're putting your writing time on your schedule.  I actually hate the word "schedule"--my free spirit finds the word so restraining.  I much prefer the term "routine."  Either way, the point of this is to make sure writing is at the top of your list and not the bottom.  Or close to the top, anyway.

2. Work when you're inspired and work when you're not.

When I first started writing, I only wrote when inspiration hit.  That's common for newbies, but incredibly unhelpful if you want to keep writing or make a career with your words.  I'm still learning how to push through the days of drudgery and gloom, but it's an important skill to master.  Learn to work even if you don't feel like it.

3. Work methodically.

Whatever method you use is fine, but find one that works for you and use it.  If you tend to work best by writing chronologically, then do it.  If you work best by writing scenes out of order and pulling them together later, then do that instead.  If you find it easier to write an outline, by all means, write an outline.  And if you work best without one, don't feel pressured to produce one before you start writing.  The point is to find a method that helps you be successful.  Once you find that groove, you'll find the work is easier to tackle and you'll feel more organized as you work through your manuscript.

Also, be prepared for that method to change with each manuscript.  What works for one book may not work for another.  And that's okay.

Good luck on getting your own writing life organized.  And if you are already organized, good job.  I'm not jealous or anything.  Honest.

Okay.  Maybe just a little.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Welcome Amanda Sun, Today's MSFV Success Story

This week the Miss Snark's First Victim Success Story Blog Hop is in full swing!  And today it’s my turn to host one of the Success Stories.  I pulled up a (virtual) chair to talk with Amanda Sun about her book and her love of multicultural settings. You all are welcome to join us.  I hope you do.

Photo by Alex Neary of Wild Eyed Photography
First, a little bit about Amanda:

 Amanda Sun was born in Deep River, a small town where she could escape into the surrounding forest to read. An archaeologist by training, her intense fear of spiders keeps her indoors where she writes novels instead. She will write your name in Egyptian Hieroglyphic if you ask, though. The Paper Gods is inspired by her time living in Osaka and travelling throughout Japan. She currently lives in Toronto, where she keeps busy knitting companion cubes, gaming, and sewing costumes for anime conventions. INK is her first novel. Visit her on the web at and on Twitter at @Amanda_Sun.

Welcome to the blog, Amanda!

Since this whole blog hop is because of Authoress and her blog, Miss Snark’s First Victim (which we lovingly call MSFV), first would you share with us how MSFV helped you get to where you are today?

Sure! Before I had an agent, I entered a lot of the different contests and critiques on MSFV. I entered a couple Secret Agents with different manuscripts, and while I didn't place, I did get requests from lurking agents! The comments also helped me understand what was going wrong with my opening. Another time I received a request for my ms from Authoress' First Kiss critique--and the agent knew the ms wasn't finished yet! That gave me the encouragement to get it done, polished, and ready to send out. I entered the polished ms in the first Baker's Dozen Auction which was incredibly exciting. I learned so much from the feedback I got from the agents and MSFV community! MSFV has been a supportive home base through the querying and submission process, and the feedback and encouragement I received there definitely helped me get to this point. So thank you guys for being awesome!

Yes! I second that thanks to all those in the MSFV community.  They are an incredibly selfless group of people.

Well, Amanda, it looks like you were very successful at getting past the querying and submission stage, because your debut novel, INK, comes out in July 2013. Congrats!


Can you share a blurb?

INK is a YA paranormal set in Japan. It is the first in a series called The Paper Gods.  After her mother's death, 16-year-old Katie is uprooted to Japan to live with her English-teaching aunt. There she crosses paths with her new school's arrogant and gorgeous kendo star Tomohiro, whose drawings come to life in dangerous ways, pulling them both into Japan's paranormal underworld--that is, if the Yakuza don't get them first.

Oooh, it sounds sooooo amazing!   Good multicultural books are so hard to find these days.  How did you choose Japan as the setting?

The walking bridge into Sunpu Park, an important scene in INK.  © Amanda Sun.
Thank you! INK is mostly inspired by time living in Osaka, with a healthy combination of my background in Archaeology and my addiction to JDramas. I love diverse YA and I knew I wanted to write something that was multicutural as a backdrop, but without that being the actual plot of the story.

I love the idea of a multicultural paranormal.  What a cool idea!

Originally I set out to write INK as a contemporary, but there was one scene where Katie looked over Tomohiro's shoulder at his drawing--and it moved. And then I realized I had a paranormal on my hands. :)

That paranormal element is very clever.  I really loved the idea of sketches coming to life.  Tell us a little bit more about how you came up with that premise.

The idea for sketches that come to life in dangerous ways came from a couple places too. Kanji, the characters used in Chinese and Japanese writing, were originally used to communicate with the spiritual realm. In a similar way, Egyptian scribes used to chisel a line through any snake hieroglyphs, we think in case they slithered off the walls and bit the Pharoah entombed. So I loved that idea of sketches holding power, and I pictured a Japanese teen trying to deal with this frightening ability.

I love how you weaved your love of Egyptian hieroglyphs with Chinese and Japanese writings as well.  That is truly multicultural thinking, in my opinion.

But I am also impressed with all the thought you have put into the multicultural setting.  Japan is nothing like the western civilization we live in, so it must have been difficult to capture a world so very different from your own.  Did you do a lot of research in order to accurately portray Japanese culture?

Sunpu Castle, a setting in INK.  © Amanda Sun.
 While my time living in Japan provided a great basis for writing INK, I did a lot of research to make sure I was as accurate as possible. I'd like to see a lot more Asian teens (and teens of color) in YA, and so it's important to me to get it as right as I can. After writing the first draft of INK, I revisted Shizuoka, the city INK is set in. I took a ridiculous amount of photos [three of which she shares with us here], walked the routes my characters walk, rode the buses they ride, and so on. I watched every school-themed JDrama I could get my hands on to fill in the gaps, and I also have a former host student from Shizuoka who allowed me to quiz her about any details I wasn't sure of (for example, what kind of slang Japanese teens use to make sure my words were current). I checked all my character names and Japanese phrases with her and another friend from Osaka, so everything is as accurate as I can make it.

Wow.  Impressive research!  But you must have been overwhelmed with the amount of research you had on hand to use.  It must have taken some work to distill it all down.  So, tell us, what do you think are the most important things to capture about another culture in a novel?

Great question! I think the most important thing to capture in a novel about another culture is the common ground we have, the similarities between their lives and ours. Sure, Japan is exotic and different and interesting. But as much as life is different there, it's also the same. Teens still have club meetings, homework to do, and real life issues to deal with. I wanted to make Japan accessible to readers, to see a peek into what life is really like over there. But even more than that, I wanted to tell a story pulled from a very different mythology than the one we're used to in North America. :)

Before we leave, do you have any other tips for writers out there?

Do everything you can to be accurate and respectful. I think in YA especially we often deal with cultural stereotypes that make their way into our characters--and often it's not intentional, but a lack of understanding on our part. Read everything you can that's set in that culture. Try to find people from that culture that you can talk to about your WIP. Try to visit if you can, and stay a while. Traveling through a country as a tourist and actually living in the country will give you very different experiences, so try to go off the beaten track. If you can't visit, use the internet to "walk around" and see the sights. And remember that as different as we are, we have even more in common.

Words of wisdom, Amanda.  Thanks for stopping by and sharing them with us.

Thanks so much for having me, Elissa! :)

You’re welcome!

Shizuoka Futaba Gakuen, the inspiration for the high school in INK.  © Amanda Sun.

Because of the awesomeness that is Amanda, today you lucky people can enter below to win the following prize pack:
  • a signed copy of Tesseracts Fifteen, an anthology of YA SF/F (including "Fragile Things" by Amanda Sun)
  • two rolls of Puccho candy, one soda flavor, one peach soda flavor
  • one box of Japanese pretzel sticks, honey butter flavor
  • a query letter critique OR first five page critique (your choice); if you don't have one, this prize is transferrable to a friend
  • your name written in Egyptian Hieroglyphic and Japanese
I am jealous, people.  You have no idea how lucky you are that you can enter to win.  Oh, and this is open internationally.

Anyway, hop on downwards and enter.  And keep an eye out for INK, coming out July 2013!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh, and don't forgot to keep following the MSFV Success Story Blog Hop.  On Amanda's blog tomorrow, she will be interviewing the amazing Kristi Helvig, so head on over to join in more MSFV fun!

And here's the entire blog hop schedule so you can check out each Success Story:

August 1--David Kazzie (@davidkazzie)
August 2--Leigh Talbert Moore (@leightmoore)
August 3--J.Anderson Coats (@jandersoncoats)
August 4--J.M. Frey (@scifrey)
August 5--Elissa Cruz (@elissacruz)
August 6--Amanda Sun (@Amanda_Sun)
August 7--Kristi Helvig (@KristiHelvig)
August 8--Leah Petersen (@Leahpetersen)
August 9--Monica Bustamante (@Monica_BW)
August 10--E.M. Kokie (@emkokie)
August 11--Monica Goulet (@MonicaGoulet)
August 12--PeterSalomon (@petersalomon)
August 13--Sarah Brand (@sarahbbrand)
August 14--Angela Ackerman (@angelaackerman & @writerthesaurus)
August 15--Tara Dairman