Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year in the Life of a Book (Writer Wednesday)

So I thought for New Year's I'd give a recap of what happened in my writing life this year, as well as what happens to one book. Since I started this book last January, it makes perfect sense to focus on this one. It's a contemporary YA which I will release under a pen-name, and since I don't know if it will be self published, I'm not going to give a name (since if picked up by a traditional publisher, they'll probably change the name.

Without further ado, this is how Untitled Manuscript fared last year.

January 2014--First draft written & titled
February 2014--My usual 3 rounds of edits
March 2014--Beta Reader search begins. Found 10 willing readers.
April 2014--Edits made based on beta feedback, back cover text written.
May 2014--Had planned to self-publish, but was encouraged by beta reader/authors to query agents. Never had any luck before, but wrote up a query & sent it to 10 agents whose names I remembered from querying about 5 years ago. Got a request right away. Wha??? Queried 10 more agents.
June 2014--Got a "revise & resubmit" request from my #1 choice agent, who had requested the full manuscript. Edits made based on agent suggestions, resubmit to agent & submissions to other interested agents.
July 2014--Query 20 more agents, retitle manuscript, failed spin-off novel attempt.
August 2014--Further revisions made based interested agents' suggestions.
September 2014--Rejection from my #1 agent. Round 3 of queries. Nudges to unresponsive agents.
October 2014--Research agents. Retitle book yet again. Submissions to interested agents.
November 2014--Last round of queries. Had set my limit at 100 agents, and got 10% request rate. Which is actually really good, believe it or not.
December 2014--Set aside, waiting to hear back from 4 agents who have the full manuscript. Then it's back to my original plan....

All this time, I was not sitting around waiting, though. I moved, started up a little garden, and even found time to write. For a more complete picture of a writer's life, see next week's post.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars
This book was a very strange read for me. It was written in a way that sounded so true that I had to look up "The Escapist" to see if it was a real comic book (since I've never read a comic book in my life and know nothing about them). It was a good, engrossing story, though a bit slow in parts. It wasn't one of those books that I just HAD to read, or that I felt compelled to keep reading, or that I couldn't put down. But it was enjoyable enough that I never considered abandoning it in favor or something flashier.

I enjoyed all the adventures of both Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, but I did find the book wasn't exactly an equal portrayal of both men. Joe was without a doubt the main character, with only small glimpses of Sammy now and then. That's a shame, too, because I found Sam the more compelling character, despite the scarce page time and lack of adventures. Joe got to have all the excitement and adventure, and yet, it was Sammy, who had never left New York in his life, that I wanted to read about. At times, I grew frustrated with Joe and wished the author would give us a glimpse into what Sammy was doing while Joe was getting into all kinds of trouble for hours of page time at a stretch.

The novel was well-written, with a straight-forward narrative sprinkled with little word-gems that made me stop to savor them for a few seconds before going on. The author has a masterful grasp on the language and twisted it in delightful, unexpected ways.

A recommended read for adults age 16+. Language, sex, and violence peppers the novel, but not in a disturbing way.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

YA Wednesday: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Joey Pigza, #1)Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a strange combination of hilarious, serious, and deeply disturbing. I've had a few people recommend it to me, and I knew it was about a kid with ADHD, but that's about all I knew about it. It started out really funny, and my son loved it.

As it went on, I started to wonder if it was a bit much for a third grader. My son didn't really 'get' some of the disturbing scenes--he didn't understand why I said it was a sad book. But then, he said he thought the grandma was a good grandma and that having a timeout in a refrigerator would be 'cool.' Everything was presented in such a light, matter-of-fact way that it made the abuses this kid suffered even more horrifying. And I think it makes them sort of easy for a kid to overlook or not take seriously.

The characters in this book were loveable and hateable and very relate-able. I loved Joey, although I'm not going to lie and say I'd want Joey for a son or a student. But he's completely loveable, and nuts, and so freaking sad. He'd been through so much, and it was so believable that it broke my heart. I absolutely adored his teacher and his mom, too. She'd made mistakes, and in a way, the abuses he suffered were partially her fault for leaving him, although she didn't know what he was living with while she was gone. But his mom was also doing the right thing, and she was so good with Joey, exactly what he needed. It was hard not to love her, despite her shortcomings in the past, because she was so real and she'd tried so hard to turn her life around and be there for her son. And not just that, but she was doing a pretty amazing job at it. Better than I'd do with that kid, no matter how loveable, that's for sure.

Content: 10+ for some physical and emotional abuse and themes.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

YA Wednesday: Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Usually, when I read a book I really love, I find myself wishing I'd written it. I don't wish I'd written this book. It is too perfect, and if I'd written it, I might have changed one word, and one word different would make it less than perfect. I would not want a single word of this book different.

Usually, when I read a book I love, I want to eat it. I didn't want to eat this book. I wanted to hold it to my chest and squeeze it so hard it became a part of me, absorbed into my heart.

This book made me want to use adjectives like whimsical, magical, musical, and lovely. But those words do not do it justice. This book made me clutch my steering wheel as I listened, heart thumping, for the book to race to its conclusion. It made me ache with wanting what Sophie wanted. It made me burst into tears at the last line.

I can't begin to do this book justice with a review. I fell in love with every character, with every twist, with the language the author uses. I never wanted it to end, but I couldn't wait to see what happened next, to see how it would turn out. When it ended, I felt like I'd been clubbed in the heart. I just wanted to sit there, stunned, saying "Oh my god, oh my god," over and over, because I couldn't think of a single other thing to say.

I don't know who I would recommend this book to. It's too special to me to say that I'd want everyone to read it. Some people might not 'get it,' might not fall in love with its loveliness. But it is now on my list of favorite books of all time, with the likes of Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird. It's that good. It transcends the 5 star rating. There should be a special category for books this good, an exemption that lets readers give a 6-star review. Even that would not be enough.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

YA Wednesday: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I saw this book in a classroom library about 5 years ago, and I've wanted to read it ever since. I should have gotten to it sooner--this book rocks.

Some people have complained that this book wasn't feminist enough, but since I didn't go into it with any inklings of it being a feminist novel, that didn't bother me. It's about a 15-year-old girl who is just now beginning to realize that life isn't fair--because she's a girl. She's not a feminist. She's only beginning to be bothered by life's double standards, by the guy's-only exclusivity of her school. She has barely begun to think of these things, so how can she be a feminist?

Frankie is in love with a guy, although their relationship never feels very deep to me. Maybe it's because of all the secrecy that keeps them apart, as he's a member of the secret (male-only, of course) society on their elite boarding school campus. Frankie hates the secrecy, and the doors that are closed to her in all areas of her life, but most of all, that she can't become a member of this society and become even closer to her boyfriend, to share everything with him. Does this sound feminist?

I thought Frankie was clever and a fun protagonist to go along with. Sure, she's a bit nuts, and a bit of a stalker, but still, she was fun. I don't think this book should be some kind of guide for feminist thinking or anything, but I do think the author did a good job in showing the double standards of society, of pointing out that kind of exclusive thinking and how unfair it is. I think she does a good job of showing how it feels to be in this minority party, to show how it can drive a person nuts that they can't do anything about it.

I loved Frankie's antics, but I think if this was a feminist novel, she would have wanted to start her own club for girls, which I kept waiting for, but it never happened. Also, I think our protagonist would have had to have a better reason for wanting to join the boys than wanting to impress her boyfriend's friends and get closer to him. She would have had to be a better friend to her roommate, and the other female characters would have been better developed. Thinking of this book as some kind of intro to feminism is probably not a good idea. Thinking of it as an excellent read with a fun, engaging protagonist and a fast-paced plot, along with a bit of an examination of the unfairness women face every day in things as inconsequential as high-school bonding rituals makes for one of the most unputdownable books I've read this year. For a while, I've been running across big disappointments in the contemporary YA section. I've been waiting for a book that would suck me in and not let go, and this was the one.

Rating: 10+ No cursing, very mild sexual situations (think kissing), and no violence.

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