Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creating Characters--Shannon Style

Last week I showed you guys my obsessively organized brainstorming method, and since I mentioned that I also work with a separate character profile, I thought I'd cover my character building methods this week.

Now, I'll confess, I happen to be one of those writers whose characters are VERY real to them. Like, so real they talk to me and hijack my plots and run my life. (Yeah...my husband thinks I'm weird). So my main characters tend to come to me pretty complete, already talking to me and bossing me around. I still fill out the character profiles, but it's mostly just recording the stuff I already know, rather than building the characters and discovering them.

But for my side characters--who I like to be just as detailed and unique as my main characters--writing the character profile is invaluable to me.

So, here's my character profile template:

If you click on them you *should* be able to read them better. 
And incidentally, if you'd like me to email you a .doc of it, just let me know, I'd be happy to.

So this is what I call, "the basics." It's a list of what are, in my opinion at least, the most useful questions from a bunch of different "how to write" books/websites. 
  • Name. 
  • Appearance. 
  • Friends. 
  • Family. 
  • Faults. 
  • Strengths. 
  • Etc. 

And some of the questions start to get you digging a little deeper, like asking how the character feels about their appearance. What their biggest secret is. Are they likable? Will readers like them? Memories from their childhood. On and on. All good things to know. 

By the time I'm done really thinking about all those questions and coming up with answers, I'll have a really good basic sense of the character. Even a sense of how they speak. Definitely worth taking the time to do. But for me...that's only the beginning. 

Once I've filled out all "the basics" on my character profile template, I start adding new questions at the bottom--ones not on the document I'm showing you, because they're questions specific to the character individually, based on what I've learned about them from filling out the profile.

For example, if my character is a 12-year-old girl, I'm going to ask myself:
  • Has she entered puberty? 
  • How does she feel about those changes to her body?
  • Is she wearing a bra yet? 
  • Getting zits? 
  • Shaving her legs? 
  • Has she started wearing make-up? 
  • Has she started her period? 
  • Is she interested in boys yet? 
  • Has she ever kissed a boy?
  • Does she want to, or is that still weird?
  • Are her friends older or younger than her? 
  • Etc. 
I know those seem like weirdly personal questions to be thinking about with a character, but to me, that's what makes them REAL. I mean, I remember being a 12 year old girl--there were a LOT of changes going on to me and my friends, and we were all at different points in our metamorphosis. It mattered--big time--if we were the only one not allowed to wear make-up, or the only one not allowed to shave their legs. It defined so much of how I saw myself--and how others saw me. So even though I'll probably never mention whether or not my character has a zit on her cheek or is embarrassed about still needing a "training bra"--unless it factors into the story--she becomes SO much more real to me if I know that about her.

And the reason those questions aren't built into my template is because they only matter if my character is a "tween" girl. If my character is a teenage boy, the list changes. I might ask:
  • Does he like to flirt with girls?
  • Has he entered puberty yet?
  • Is his voice deep, high pitched--or cracking?
  • Does he play any school sports?
  • How tall is he, compared to the other boys?
  • Does he need to shave yet?
  • Has he kissed a girl?
  • Does he have acne, backne, or neckne?
  • How do girls respond to him?
  • How do other guys respond to him?
  • Does he brag a lot?
  • Etc. 
Again, what I'm *trying* to do is get to the essence of them. The things I might notice if they were a real teenage guy standing right in front of me, or if they were my brother or cousin or something. That's what really gets them to start talking to me, and really makes them "them" and not "generic teenage boy character X"

Pretty sure you guys get the point, but just to pound the point home:

If the character were a middle-aged mom with kids, I would ask:
  • Does she have any lines or wrinkles on her face?
  • Is her hair turning gray yet?
  • Is she comfortable in a bikini? Tankini? One piece? 
  • Does she have any regrets?
  • How many men did she date before she married her husband?
  • Is she still in touch with any of those men?
  • Has her life turned out the way she'd hoped it would?
  • Does she ever think about death or worry about her health?
  • Does she like "young" clothes and music?
  • Could she still fit into her wedding dress?
  • How does she get along with her in-laws?
  • Does she trust her husband?
  • Etc.

Once again, most of those things probably won't show up in the book. But it's amazing how real it makes a character to think of them like this. I can't tell you how many times I had a character who was just sort of...generic and boring, and thanks to these exercises I'd realize: She was in love with character X when they were younger and has still never gotten over it!!! Or:  He's this cocky, cute guy that all the girls want...but he's never kissed a girl because he's not allowed to date yet and he doesn't want anyone else to know! 

It's amazing how knowing that about a character makes them jump of the page. It's like their dialogue pretty much writes itself after that.

So basically, all my character profiles start the same, and end completely differently. But the end goal is always the same: to see my characters as real, flawed people with secrets--big and small--they're keeping, issues--deep or shallow--that influence them and individual personalities and histories. Usually takes me several hours per character, but it is worth every second of that time--especially when it comes to dialogue. I revise my dialogue less than any other aspect of my draft, and it's because I know my characters so well, I *know* what they're going to say.  But I'll talk more about dialogue in another post.

Okay, I think that covers the topic pretty well. What about you guys? How do you get to know your characters? If you ask yourself any questions I haven't mentioned, please--do share. I love hearing about other writer's methods. :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--The Secret Series (and a Giveaway!!!)

Since we talked about the Series of Unfortunate Events books last week, I thought I'd use this weeks Marvelous Middle Grade Monday to talk about another series I adore, which reminds me of the Lemony Snicket books in some ways. THE SECRET SERIES, by Pseudonymous Bosh.

The four books in the series are:


And their covers are just as awesome as their titles:



So, as I'm sure you can tell, much like the Series of Unfortunate Events, the SECRET SERIES is written by a fictitious author--who I've had the pleasure of meeting and hearing him speak. He's hilarious! I highly recommend catching one of his signings :) 

The books also talk directly to the reader and basically tell them not to read the books and not to keep reading (which is genius if you ask me--what makes a kid want to do something more than telling them NOT to do it? Oh, wait...maybe it's titling the book THIS BOOK IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU with a big slab of chocolate on the cover! #brilliant) 

But where the Series of Unfortunate Events is all about being hilariously dour and depressing, the Secret books are all about intrigue and mystery and danger. And while I haven't had a chance to work my way through the entire series yet (stupid endless revision schedule), what I have read has been all kinds of awesome. Page turning. Laugh out loud funny. Addicting. So you can bet I'll be digging into the books I haven't read as. soon. as. I. possibly. can. 

And--because I am absolutely positive that kids and adults alike will love these books as much as I do--I picked up signed copies of the first three books, and I'm giving all three away to one lucky commenter on today's post!

Ooo...look at the pretty prizes!

And they all come with his secret signature and confidential stamp inside:

To enter, all you have to do is be a follower of my blog and leave a comment on this post sometime between now and 11:59 PST on Saturday, December 4th. International entries welcome.

And since this contest is for 3 signed books--and I have a feeling some (or all) of you will REALLY want them--I'll do the extra work and give extra entires for spreading the word. So I'll give 3 extra entries for posting about this on your blog/website, tweeting about it, or mentioning it on facebook. Just make sure you leave a link in your comments so I can verify.

UPDATE: Clearly the Shannons have teamed up to spread middle grade love, because the fabulous Ms Shannon O'Donnell has once again done a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday of her own. Make sure you hop over THERE for another fabulous book recommendation!

Yay--another MMGM post! So exciting to see Middle Grade getting more attention in the blogosphere. The lovely Joanne Fritz is featuring some incredible MG books on her blog today too. Click HERE to check them out. 

If anyone else has done a MMGM feature, let me know--I'll happily link your post! Just drop me an email.

Okay, I think that's everything. Good luck!

Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Double Winners on a Sunday!

Hey guys!

Hope everyone is having a nice, relaxing four day weekend!

I just dropped in to announce the contest winners--and tomorrow we'll return to my regular blogging schedule, so hopefully some of you will stop by. :)

Okay, first up, the winner of the signed hardcover of THE MARBURY LENS by Andrew Smith is...


*tosses confetti*

And, the winner of the 3 SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS paperbacks is...


*tosses glitter and sparkles*

As always, I have emailed the winners asking for their mailing addresses. So if one of those names is you--check your email and make sure you get back to me, otherwise I might have to pass your prize to someone else, and we wouldn't want that!

Huge thanks to everyone who entered, and I really hope you guys will still find a way to read these books--you won't regret it. They. are. awesome!!!

I'll be back tomorrow with another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday feature (and another contest) so make sure you stop by and enter. See everybody then!

Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brainstorming--Shannon Style

Last week I showed you guys my "loose outlining" method, (if you missed the post you can find it here) which is actually part of the way I brainstorm a project. So I thought I'd use this week's "Shannon Style" post to show you the rest of the ways I brainstorm--even though I have a feeling you're going to laugh at how ridiculously organized it is (I know, it's supposed to be a "storm" for a reason--but I'm a tad OCD, okay?)

Okay, here is a VERY edited down version of what my "brainstorming file" looks like (usually they end up about 10-15 pages long, but I whittled this down to two to keep it simpler for this post, so keep in mind that this is really just the starting point)

(And I know these are kind of hard to see--though if you click on them you should be able to read them better--but don't worry, I will explain them below)
So basically it's a single document with a lot of color coded categories. And I know that's a total nerd-alert way of brainstorming, but I'm a very organized person, and it makes my life SO much easier when I'm actually writing the draft, so I don't care. :P

Here's the categories I break it down into:
  • Main Characters
  • Setting Ideas
  • Basic Plot in One Paragraph
  • Inspirational Music
  • Inspirational Pictures
  • Books to read/reread
  • Random Thoughts/Partial Ideas
  • Loose Outline
  • Rejected ideas

And just like last time, let's look at those one by one:

Main Characters: A quick list of all the characters essential to the story, along with a couple of sentences defining their role. I do MUCH more in-depth character development for each character in a separate file (something I will cover in a later post) but I like to list them here because it helps me to see if I have too many characters, too few, and how they're going to interact with each other. I also use this as sort of the testing ground to decide if a character is worth developing further, or if I have a dud on my hands and need to go back to the drawing board.

Setting Ideas: Personally, I like my setting to be an integral part of the story, whether it's a world I've created or a real, existing place. So I do a lot of brainstorming to figure out where the right setting is, and all the key "locations" in that setting. A lot of times this section gets filled with links to things I've found via google, sometimes even a few pictures if I find something perfect. But this is the space for my brain to visualize all the places that will be in the book, and make sure it's as rich and detailed as possible.

Basic Plot in One Paragraph: Not really something people think of as "brainstorming," but I include it because it's a really good writing exercise for me to force myself to break the plot down to it's barest elements and see it in a single paragraph. Helps me to see if I have too much planned for the book, or not enough, and it also forces me to start analyzing the plot and searching for holes, gaps, or inconsistencies. 

Inspirational Music: I can't write without music playing, so I always make a playlist for the project and one for each of the main characters. But I have like 4000 songs in my iTunes library, so building those playlists could be a Herculean task if I didn't have somewhere to brainstorm them. Anytime I hear something that fits--especially if it's a song I don't yet own--I make a note of it here, maybe even find a link on youtube (if one exists) and I'll use this later when I'm ready to make my playlists. (And if you want an idea of the kind of songs I use, THIS is one of my favorites right now.)

Inspirational Pictures: I do a lot of random googling when I'm searching for story ideas and I stumble across a lot of awesome images that spark bits and pieces of inspiration. But it got annoying to open them in separate windows, so I started inserting them into my brainstorming file so they'd all be in one place and I could look at them all at the same time. It REALLY helped my brainstorming process. (and yes, I usually group and sort the pictures based on what they are. We've already established that I'm a nerd.)

Books to read/re-read: Writing is reading--IMHO--so a big part of my research process is reading or re-reading books that might be similar to what I'm working on. Partially to learn what works and what doesn't, but mostly to see what's already been done and adjust my ideas accordingly, so that my project is as original as possible. I keep a running list as I brainstorm and try to tackle the majority of them before I start the draft, that way I can make adjustments before I'm too far in. But if it's a long list of books, I read the main ones first and crank through the rest as I write.

Random Thoughts/Partial Ideas: This is the longest and most chaotic section of my brainstorming, and is often filled with completely fragmented ideas, usually in the form of a question, like: "what if this character is afraid of ducks?" (okay, not that bad, but kind of). It's all those little ideas that hit me at random points in the brainstorming process and I can't decide if I want to use them or not, until I've really thought them through. So I make a note of them here and revisit later. This is also the first place I turn when I hit a wall. It's amazing how often that weird, "what if" question I wondered about while brainstorming turns out to be the PERFECT solution to the plot problem I stumbled across in the draft.

Loose Outline: All of the brainstorming I do is working to build this, which I covered last week. It's very vague, and only about a page-and-a-half long, but it's the framework for the main plot of the story. I won't let myself dive into the draft until I have this in place.

Rejected ideas: I'll admit it--I'm a saver. I can't bring myself to throw anything away, which is kind of part of the brainstorming process (you're tossing out so many ideas at that stage, it's natural that a ton of them won't work.) But I just never know when the idea that I thought was absolutely atrocious turns out to be the one thing that makes everything come together, so I can't delete them. I also don't want my brainstorming getting too dauntingly cluttered with craptastic ideas though, so I created this section to save my sanity. Ideas I'm pretty darn sure I'm not going to use get cut and pasted here, way at the bottom of the brainstorming file. That way they're still there, on the off chance I do want them after all.

And there you have it: Brainstorming--Shannon Style. I usually spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (depending on how complicated the story is) working in this file, ironing out kinks, refining ideas, getting everything organized enough in my brain to finally dive into the draft. 

The best part is, it's all so clear and organized that if, for some reason, I can't get started on the draft right away, (if, for example, I'm in the middle of revision on another project) I can easily reread my brainstorming notes whenever I'm ready to dive in, and they let me pick up right where I left off.  It's how I've been able to juggle my MS and my sekrit MS at the same time without any problems. I'm even thinking about juggling a third. We'll see if I'm that crazy. ;)

Anyway, enough about me and my process. What about you guys? How do you brainstorm a writing project? Anyone else as OCD-organized as I am?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--A Series of Unfortunate Events (and a Giveaway!!!)

Sorry for missing Marvelous MiddleGrade Monday for the past few weeks--things have been a little hectic over here with the Partial Critique giveaway and the WriteOnCon live event. But, things are finally settling back to normal and I thought I'd make it up to you guys by giving away not one, not two, but THREE awesome middle-grade books today--but we'll get to the giveaway in a minute.

*trusts everyone to not just scroll down and skip my ramblings*

I created Marvelous Middle Grade Monday because I wanted to give middle-grade a tiny piece of the online platform it deserves--since so much of it gets overlooked in the Blogosphere. And because of that, I usually I try to focus on books or series you might not have heard of yet. But today I wanted to do something different.

Today's series is one you've probably heard of. Shoot, Jim Carey and Meryl Streep were in the film adaption. But I'm featuring it because I think it's an absolutely fabulous example of middle grade books not being just for kids. And so, I give you: A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket:

When I first started reading middle grade as research (something I think everyone should do before they attempt to write middle grade) I decided to start with the BIG series--figuring they were obviously doing something right. So naturally I checked out this collection--it's an international bestseller (what must THAT be like?)--and I was instantly intrigued by several things.

-The books get thicker as the series progresses (we all know I'm a fan of longer middle grade).

-Even the titles use big, complicated words I never would have thought could/would be used in middle grade (THE PENULTIMATE PERIL, for instance)

-The books are written by an imaginary character named Lemony Snicket, who is as much a part of the books as the Baudelaire Orphans.

-The books immediately tell you not to read them, which only makes you want to read them more.

And then, when I really dove into the series I was blown away by how sophisticated the writing was. How the tone of the narration could be droll and depressing AND funny all at the same time. How things never went right for the Baudelaires, but I never got frustrated (and I'm a happy ending kind of girl). How half the time what went on in the books felt more like a complicated metaphor than the simple plot it was disguised as. And how I couldn't put them down. I worked through the whole series in about two weeks. 

In Friday's Q & A session, someone had asked me if it's hard to write middle grade and keep the language and plot age appropriate, and I had responded by saying that middle grade books are far more sophisticated than we think. These books are PERFECT examples of that. They're also some of the first books I recommend to adults who tell me middle grade books are too young for them. And everyone who's read them at my recommendation has had to agree with me. They. are. awesome--and unlike most anything else out there. 

So I highly recommend you give them a chance. And to help you with that, I'm giving away the first three (in their fancy paperback form, which has some extra stuff you don't get with the hard covers):

Sadly, they're not signed (he's one of the authors I haven't been able to stalk meet--I found out about the last signing he did the day AFTER happened. I'm still not over it *sobs*) but they are three very awesome books with very awesome features and, well, they're free. Can't go wrong with that. :)

If you'd like a chance to win, make sure you're a follower of my blog and leave a comment on this post by 11:59 PST on Saturday, November 27th. I'll choose one random winner and announce them on Sunday, November 28th. International entries welcome.

And since this is the first Marvelous Middle Grade Monday in a bit, I'd love to continue the discussion. So feel free to rave about a middle grade book you love in the comments.  Maybe it'll end up as my next MMGM feature. :)

Update: For another fabulous middle grade recommendation, check out the lovely Shannon O'Donnell's blog today, with a  Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday feature on DRAGONSPELL!

And if you've done a MMGM feature and want me to cross-link you, drop me an email and I'll happily add you. Yay for MG love!!!!

Good luck everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Museum of Thieves ARC Winner!

Hey guys!

Just your friendly neighborhood blogger dropping in late--once again (sorry!)--to announce the winner of the ARC of MUSEUM OF THIEVES by Lian Tanner.




And the winner is...

(who has one of the more interesting blogger profile names I've seen) ;)


*tosses confetti*

So check your email Leah--er Mary_Not_Martha--there's one in there from me asking for your mailing address.

For the rest of you, thanks for all your support for the book--it's FABULOUS! I highly recommend picking up a copy if you can.

And be sure to check back on Monday! Marvelous Middle Grade Monday will FINALLY be back, and I have an awesome giveaway in store. Like, BEYOND awesome, in fact. Don't miss out. :D

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bookanista Review: The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith--and a Giveaway!

Okay, this might be the hardest Bookanista review I've ever written. I mean, HOW do I describe what makes THE MARBURY LENS, by Andrew Smith, such an incredible, powerful, unique, amazing book? I'm not sure I have the words. But I'm going to try!

So let's start with the cover:

I personally think Feiwel and Friends has some of the best covers in the business (see EYES LIKE STARS, THE KNEEBONE BOY, or SELLING HOPE if you don't believe me) and this is another fabulous example. The stark, bold image with the only color coming from the glasses (which are also coated, so they have a sheen to them) perfectly conveys the tone of the book, and makes you wonder: what the heck is going on? Which pretty much sums up the way you feel the entire time you're reading. Seriously, WHAT is going on????

Here's how the publisher explains it in the official blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.

There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.

Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.
Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.

But, it’s not.

Andrew Smith has written his most beautiful and personal novel yet, as he explores the nightmarish outer limits of what trauma can do to our bodies and our minds.

So...if you can't tell from the cover or the blurb, this book isn't what you'd call "light fare." The tone, language, and plot are dark and gritty, and there were certain scenes that made me very glad I wasn't reading right before bed. I've described books as haunting before--but I lied. THIS book is haunting. You can't just put it down and put it out of your mind. It stays with you, and I guarantee you, months from now I will still be thinking about it, trying to figure it out.

I don't think I can sum it up any better than the blurb on the cover:

"THE MARBURY LENS crawls inside your head and won't leave. Scary, creepy, awful, and awesome." -Michael Grant, author of GONE and HUNGER

Need more proof that the book is one-of-a-kind? How about this: Andrew told me when I met him that he never planned on publishing MARBURY. It was his editor--the fabulous Liz Szabla--who asked to read it, and when he sent her some pages she insisted he let her publish it (yeah--I know. Amazing, right?) I'm guessing that's why the book is dedicated to her. And I can see why she loved it so much. It may not be an easy book to read, but the writing is powerful and elegant, and the issues it's exploring and the questions it's raising are important.

It's definitely not the type of story I usually read, but I like to read the books of my agent-mates (even though I always feel like I belong in Hacksville when I do--I am grouped with an INSANE amount of talent. I have no idea what I'm doing there...) and a few of my friends raved about it, so I wanted to give it a try. So when I heard Andrew was speaking at a SCIBA event a couple weeks ago I made sure I was there to pick up a signed copy. See:

MAN I need a tan. 
*note to self, get out of the house in daylight occasionally*

And because Andrew is so amazingly awesome (seriously, if you guys aren't following his blog you should be) he snuck me an extra copy from his personal stash, so I could have one to give away to you guys. 

So if you'd like to enter to win, make sure you leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm PST on Saturday November 27th. I'll draw the winner and announce them on November 28th. International entries welcome.


For more incredible book recommendations, here's what the rest of The Bookanista's are up to:

Christine Fonseca is amazed by DESIRES OF THE DEAD
Elana Johnson is in love with PERILOUS
Megan Miranda is captivated by MATCHED
Beth Revis is blown away by DEMONGLASS
Lisa and Laura Roecker share a YA review from an actual YA: a "Guestanista Review" on THE REPLACEMENT
Carolina Valdez Miller is spreading picture book love for CHICKEN BUTT! 
Bethany Wiggins is stunned by STRANGE ANGELS 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing for YOU!

Okay, I know this seems obvious. I mean, writers write because we love to write, right? (heh, try saying that five times fast) We write the stories that we want to tell. So we're always writing for ourselves, right?


Because we also want to get published, so sometimes we can't help thinking: maybe I should tell THIS kind of story--it might sell better. Or Dreamy Agent X likes THIS kind of book, so maybe I should write that. And even if it doesn't go that far, sometimes it's impossible not to think: I have to finish this draft/revision so I can query/sub it and finally get a book deal. 

And it's understandable. Being published is a BIG dream--it's only natural that it would influence us. I know I'm totally guilty of thinking that way.  But it also puts a LOT of extra pressure on every word I type when I do it. And it tends to rob me of my joy of writing.

So a while ago I came up with my own solution to the problem, and I thought I'd let you in on the secret. But I'm trusting you guys with this. Everyone agree to keep my secret?

*waits for everyone to nod*


*whispers* I have a sekrit project.

Other than like...three people deep deep DEEP in the inner circle of trust, no one knows what it's about. Not even my agent. (She doesn't even know it exists--shhh--don't tell her!) And I know that might seem strange. Like...why write something and keep it a secret--especially from your agent?

And the answer is: because this one's MINE.

I'm not writing it to please anyone other than myself. If I want to break a rule and do something unconventional--I can. If I want to throw in a joke that I know only *I* will think is funny, I can. If I want to drag out my favorite scenes way longer than they need to be or let my characters run wild, I can. I don't have to think about what readers or agents or editors will want from me. I only think about what *I* want, because it's mine mine all mine.

I know that might seem like a waste of good writing time--but I assure you, it isn't. Because any time I've hit a wall or gotten discouraged or had a bad day and feel like just giving up the whole "being published" dream, I turn to my sekrit project. A couple of scenes just playing around, and I fall back in love with writing. Every. single. time.

Will I ever share my sekrit project with anyone? Maybe... Maybe not. It won't be for a while. I'm sure it'll need some MAJOR revision if I do--it's a hot mess--and I'm not ready for that right now. It's MY hot mess, and I love it just the way it is.

And I can tell you this. If I ever do decide to clue ze agent into ze sekrit project and transform it into ze possibly publishable manuscript, it won't be until I've got another sekrit project tucked safely away. Because I have to sometimes write just for me. It's how I stay sane and keep going through all the ups and downs of this crazy journey. I highly recommend it for any of you. It's amazing what a difference it makes.

But what about you guys? How do you keep from falling out of love with writing? Have you ever tried writing something just for you and you alone?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Outlining--Shannon Style

Since everyone seemed to enjoy the peek into my critiquing method last week, I thought I'd start a new weekly post series, giving you guys a glimpse of my approach to various writing elements/processes. But fair warning: my head is a crazy place to be. Enter at your own risk. :)

So today I thought I'd tackle my approach to outlining. And those of you that know me are probably thinking, "WHAT???? You hate outlining!!!!!!!" Which is true. Well...actually, "hate" isn't really a strong enough word. I loathe and despise outlining with the intensity of a thousand fiery suns, and nothing--for me--guarantees a dull, lifeless draft more than outlining the darn thing ahead of time.

But...I'm not totally a pantser either. I'm a connect-the-dotser.

I am way too OCD to just jump into a draft with no idea where I'm going or what I'm doing. So I do a lot of brainstorming before I start (in a very organized way--I'll show you guys my brainstorming method in another post). And part of that brainstorming is what I like to call a "loose outline."

Here's what I HAVE to know before I can start a draft:
  • Starting point
  • Inciting incident
  • Major turning point
  • Major turning point
  • Major turning point
  • Hopelessness
  • Climax
  • Resolution
Okay, so let's look at those one by one.

Starting point: My best guess at where the story should start. I'm usually wrong, and end up changing it later, but I pick the most logical place I can and work from there. Note: my goal is to always come into the story as late as possible. I want my inciting incident be less than 20 pages away from my starting point. Preferably 10.

Inciting Incident: Now, obviously, some stories follow a more untraditional plot structure, but most of what I write tends to be fairly plot driven. Which means at some point something needs to change for the character to really get the plot started--and the sooner it happens the better. (For example: in THE HUNGER GAMES, the Inciting Incident would be when Prim's name is drawn and Katniss volunteers to take her place.)

Major Turning Points: These can also be called "complications" or "reversals of fortune." Basically, I'm an evil writer, and I like to make sure nothing goes easily or smoothly for my characters. So I want to plan at least three major turning points for them along their journey to make them really struggle. I usually do way more than three--though several of those will be "minor" or sub-plot related--but the rest I like to leave up to the drafting process. I won't start until I have three awesome ones planned though.

Hopelessness: Have I mentioned that I'm an evil writer? Well, I am. In my screenwriting training we were taught that it was absolutely essential to push the main character to the point of "hopelessness"--and it's exactly what it sounds. Strip the character of pretty much everything they care about, make it seem like there's absolutely no possible hope for any sort of resolution, and then hit them one more time right where it counts, just to seal the deal. So I try to figure out the big things I'm going to rip away from my poor characters, and some idea of how I'm going to do it, before I dive in.

Climax: Usually follows the "hopelessness"--or, sometimes is wrapped up in the "hopelessness"--but we all know what this is. It's where everything that's been building comes to a head and boils over. The character must now face the problem head on. I absolutely cannot start writing a book until I know this, because it's the spot on the horizon that I'm driving the story to. My goal. I may not know exactly how I'm going to get there, but I have to be able to see where I'm headed. Otherwise I'll get hopelessly lost in the weeds and never find my way back out.

Resolution: I don't have to know all the specifics of the ending, but I do need to know whether it's going to be happy or sad, what the character is going to lose, what they're going to gain, and what major plot lines I'm going to tie up. But a lot will change as I power through the draft, so I try to stick to just the basics, that way I allow plenty of room for the plot to evolve.

I know that may seem like a pretty detailed outline, but it's really not. Usually it's about a 1-2 page document by the time I'm done. All I'm doing is giving the story its spine, and marking all the "dots" I need to "connect" as I write. It's a far cry from the scene. by. scene. act. by. act. 30-page outlines we had to do in film school. And that's what I want--because those outlines KILL my creativity.

For me--it's impossible to tell if a "small" scene is important until I let it play out on the page. It's too easy to say, "oh, nothing important will happen there, so lets skip to something bigger," and end up skipping all the good, fun moments that become everyone's favorite scenes. I *almost* made that mistake with my current MS, and if I hadn't changed my method, everyone's favorite character wouldn't exist. (True story. I'll share it someday, once I'm able to talk about my book online.)

But I also need some sort of structure to keep me from rambling all over the place. So that's why I've come up with this hybrid, Shannon-style method of outlining. It keeps me organized enough to not veer too far off course. But it gives me the freedom to let the story unfold more organically, so I can have those wonderful "gifts" and "surprises" that only come when writing freely, without preplanning. It's the best of both worlds. For me, at least.

What about you guys: do you outline? If so, how detailed are your outlines? And if not, do you do any preplanning, or do you just dive in blind? It's fascinating to hear about everyone's process. :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Memos (and Winners!!!)

Okay, I know I'm missing another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (sorry!) but I promise I will make it up next week with an AWESOME middle grade spotlight and giveaway. (I am also giving away a fabulous middle grade ARC for MUSEUM OF THIEVES. Click here if you haven't entered).

Plus, I figured you'd forgive me when I announce the Pay It Forward With Partials winner. ;) But before we get to that, I have a quick reminder.

In case you missed the announcement a couple weeks ago, we have an exciting live event going on tonight at the WriteOnCon website!!!!

When: TONIGHT at 9 pm EST 

Who: Stephen Barbara with Foundry Literary and
Leila Sales, author of MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS 

Topic: The agent-author relationship

They'll be hanging out with us for a whole hour--how cool is that?--so make sure you stop by armed with all your most pressing questions. 

A replay will be available if you can't make it, but trust me guys, you REALLY want to be there. There may or may not be awesome door prizes to be won. So come hang out with us. We promise a fun time, excellent info, prizes, and since LiLa are moderating this time, we *might* make it through a chat without any of my (in)famous dancing. (though...knowing me, I'll find a way to sneak some in) :D 

Can't wait to see you there! 

And with that out of the way, I guess that means it's time to announce the winner of the 25-page-critique I gave away last week. According to randomizer.org, the winner is...




*tosses confetti*

If that's you, drop me an email at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com and I'll tell you how to send your pages.

For everyone else, I have to say, I am OVERWHELMED by how many of you entered to win this prize. I wasn't exaggerating when I said I was afraid no one would enter (I mean, come on you guys--it's ME! I'm hardly cool enough to deserve that kind of response). 

So I am amazed to see more than over a hundred entries--especially when I saw how enthusiastic you all were about winning. I really wish I had the time to give a critique to all of you, but alas, I do not. Le sigh.

BUT...maybe you noticed that my title for this post says WINNERS. That "s" is not a mistake. 

Call me a masochistic (because I really do have a LOT on my plate right now), but I just couldn't let there only be one winner--not with that many entries. Not when I'm trying to pay forward all the help and support I've gotten on my journey. 

So I decided to add two more prizes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm also giving away two 10-page-critiques. And the winners of those are...





*tosses more confetti*

So if that's you, drop me an email at packratx (at) hotmail (dot) com for further instructions.

(I also hate to say this, but to be fair to everyone, if you don't get in touch with me in the next 3 days, I'll be forced to draw a new winner. So don't wait!)

And sorry, I know that still leaves a LOT of people without critiques. I wish I could do more, but for the time being, that's all I can handle. But I'll try to do this again as soon as my schedule allows. 

Thank you all again for being such a wonderful support to my blog and my journey. I couldn't do this without you guys--and I look forward to reading your comments each and every day. You all = awesome.

To see if you won any of the other Pay It Forward With Partials Prizes, make sure you check all the other girls' blogs:

Happy Monday! Hope to see you at the WriteOnCon event tonight!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bookanista Review: Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner--and a Giveaway!

Since I missed Marvelous Middle Grade Monday this week for the Paying it Forward with Partials giveaway, I thought I'd use today's Bookanista review to spotlight a fabulous middle grade book--the first of a new series: THE MUSEUM OF THIEVES, by Lian Tanner.

The Random House publicity people RAVED about it when they gave me the ARC at Comic Con, and it has been staring at me from my TBR pile ever since like, why are you neglecting me? (To which I've been whispering: I'm sorry, it's been a CRAZY summer.) But I *finally* had a chance to dive in and wow...I've been missing out. It's every bit as wonderful as the PR people claimed--and then some.

I mean, even the cover is beyond awesome:

I LOVE how it's illustrated, but it doesn't show the kids faces--my preference, I like to imagine their faces myself--and it's the kind picture I could stare at for hours, soaking up all the details.

Here's the official blurb from the publisher:

Welcome to the tyrannical city of Jewel, where impatience is a sin and boldness is a crime.

Goldie Roth has lived in Jewel all her life. Like every child in the city, she wears a silver guardchain and is forced to obey the dreaded Blessed Guardians. She has never done anything by herself and won’t be allowed out on the streets unchained until Separation Day.

When Separation Day is canceled, Goldie, who has always been both impatient and bold, runs away, risking not only her own life but also the lives of those she has left behind. In the chaos that follows, she is lured to the mysterious Museum of Dunt, where she meets the boy Toadspit and discovers terrible secrets. Only the cunning mind of a thief can understand the museum’s strange, shifting rooms. Fortunately, Goldie has a talent for thieving.

Which is just as well, because the leader of the Blessed Guardians has his own plans for the museum—plans that threaten the lives of everyone Goldie loves. And it will take a daring thief to stop him. . . .

Museum of Thieves is a thrilling tale of destiny and danger, and of a courageous girl who has never been allowed to grow up—until now.

What's cool about this book--well, one of many things--is that it has a slight dystopian vibe going on. Goldie lives in a world where they literally keep their children in chains, trying to guard and protect them from every little thing--which of course just means they've created a society riddled with fear and unhappiness and children who are never allowed to grow up. It's a society where even a tiny cut requires a month of bed rest, where they fear water, where they've gotten rid of animals because they fear plague, and where the Blessed Guardians have supreme, unjust power. And amongst all the suffocating, debilitating rules is the Museum, a place full of dark secrets and terrible dangers--and the more the Guardians try to control it, the more they threaten to destroy everyone.

I won't say more on the plot (wouldn't want to give anything away), but I have to gush just a little bit more. I love strong, smart, brave female characters--especially in middle grade (where there sometimes aren't as many)--and Goldie is a fabulous example. And the world--especially the museum! Stairways that are alive and walls that have to be sung to and rooms that shift and move. Not only was I completely jealous of the imagination and creativity required to create a place like that, but the museum itself is also a beautiful metaphor about the futility of trying to lock bad things away and pretend they don't exist. They can be calmed and contained--but they can never be ignored or forgotten. Or even fully controlled.

Some very cool lessons run through this book--but they're so intricately woven into the world and the plot that you never feel like you're being preached to. And the story is so page turning I read the book in one sitting. So yes, in case you can't tell--I loved this book, and can't wait for the next one (which...sadly, will be awhile. They just released this book in September--le sigh). And because I love it so much, I want to share my ARC with one of you.

And again, I'm going to make the giveaway nice and simple. If you're a follower of my blog, leave a comment on this post between now and 11:59 PM on Friday, November 19th. I'll draw one random winner and post their name on Saturday, November 20th. International entries welcome. 

For more awesome book recommendations, check out what my fellow Bookanistas are raving about today:

Lisa and Laura Roecker and Myra McEntire spread some love for SELLING HOPE
Elana Johnson is nuts about NIGHTSHADE
Christine Fonseca swoons over SIREN
Shelli Johannes-Wells is over the moon about THE ORACLE TO REBOUNDS and her fab giveaway.
Carolina Valdez Miller is struck by SHIP BREAKER.
Megan Miranda is in love with I AM THE MESSENGER

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Critiquing--Shannon Style

Since so many of you have entered to win my 25-page critique (which, btw, I am blown away by--I can't believe how sweet and enthusiastic you all are!) I thought I'd use today's post to talk a little bit about the way I critique. (Let's hope it doesn't trigger a mass exodus of people deleting their entry for the contest. *bites nails*)

Okay, setting my neuroses aside, I'm what you might call a thorough Critiquer. In fact, when I first sent notes to my CPs, they came with a long email explaining my method to them before they opened the document and saw how...colorful their pages were:

This is...pretty standard for a crit from me (okay, fine...maybe it's a little conservative--I didn't want to scare you all off. I leave a LOT of comments. My CPs will testify)

So what exactly are you looking at?

Well, first--I always highlight repetitive/redundant words/phrases in yellow and any adverbs that jump out at me in teal. I'm not saying the writer has to change them. I just want to make it easier for them to see where they are.  A lot of times they don't realize  how many there are until they see it that way.

And then...there's the comments. Anytime I'm confused, or have to read something more than once, or feel unsure about something--I leave a comment. Usually a long one. But I'm not pointing out things I don't like. I'm just questioning everything.

Every line of dialogue I ask myself: can I see the character saying this? Every description I ask myself: can I picture this? Every emotional beat I ask myself: can I understand why the character is feeling this? Do I believe it?  And if the answer I come up with to any of that is, "I'm not sure...", I make a comment. Not because I necessarily expect the writer to change anything, but because I want to make sure they've really thought it through.

I know how writing goes. I know what it's like to get in "the zone" and the words are just flowing flowing flowing and it's SO clear in your head. But sometimes in the haste to get the words down, we rush through things or skip something important or forget to provide certain details to help the reader see what we're seeing. And even when we revise, it's so clear to us, we often don't realize it doesn't read that way to others.

It happens to all of us. Don't be fooled into thinking I send perfectly clean pages to my CPs. (I am woefully blind when it comes to my own writing.) But I try to read really slow and carefully when I read for someone else--the same way I hope someone will do for me. I try to point out anything that makes me pause and think..does that really make sense? And I leave lengthy comments because I like to try to explain why I'm feeling confused, what I'm wondering about, what I feel like is missing. That way the writer can better understand what I think the problem is. Then it's up to them to decide if they agree or disagree and tweak accordingly.

I fully expect they'll reject some or most of my comments--and I'm fine with that. (I'd honestly be a little worried if they took every note. No way I'm right all the time) ;) And I never want them to see all the comments and think: she didn't like my pages, or she thinks I'm a bad writer. It's quite the opposite, really. I have been lucky enough to read some of the most amazing drafts ever--and they still got colorful, comment filled pages back from me. It's just my method. I'm slightly OCD, extremely detail oriented, and I ask a lot of questions. It makes for very...festive looking critique pages.

But for the most part it seems to be well received. (Well...my CPs haven't dropped me--yet... ) And I swear, I'm not brutal. I am also very generous with my happy faces and "awesomes"--plus plenty of blonde jokes and invented words. I promise you won't feel hopeless by the end.

So on that note, if you haven't left a comment to enter to win the critique, you might want to go here and do that (assuming I haven't just scared all of you away)

And what about you guys: what's your approach as you critique? What are you watching for? What makes you leave a comment?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Across the World Tour for Across the Universe (and because it's me...I brought the Shannon Shame)

Okay, I am SO excited to be a part of this blog tour. I mean, how awesome does Beth's book sound? *taps foot impatiently for my turn with The Bookanistas' ARC*

Not to mention Beth has been one of my favorite bloggers since I first "found" her about a year-and-a-half ago. She was one of those people that I just instantly thought: I need to know this girl!  So it has been such a thrill and honor to get to know her and watch all her tremendous success and be a small part of her journey toward literary world domination. (oh, and you can bet there will be domination. Have you SEEN the buzz she has going--all totally deserved, btw?)

And now she has a secret password protected section for her website--dang, the girl knows how to keep us in suspense!!! (Though...I was lucky enough to get the password early, so I've already checked it out. There is some way cool stuff in there, guys. For realzies. And no, I won't give away the secret. Well...not unless the bribe you offer is REALLY good) ;)

So here's how this works. I'm hanging out over Beth's blog providing TONS of Shannon Shame as I relate my adventure in Itter, Austria. (And believe me guys, it's heavy on the shame. Let's just say mountain biking is involved. And the pictures that go with it are especially embarrassing. I'm twirling in one of them. TWIRLING!)

But before you hop over there to laugh at me (and yeah...you're gonna laugh at me--le sigh), here's the information Beth has provided for how this tour works--and make sure you read all the way to the bottom to get today's clue. 

Across the Universe is a sci fi coming out from Penguin/Razorbill on January 11, 2011. Author Beth Revis describes it as "a murder mystery set in space," but it also has romance, adventure, and dystopian elements. In the book, a girl boards an interstellar spaceship in a journey across the universe to find a new planet.

To celebrate the book's upcoming release, Beth's gathered together writers and readers from across the blogosphere to share their stories of adventures they've had across the world. Check out her site the first two weeks of November to read about adventures from the Wild West to Indonesia, from Europe to Africa.

And as you're going across the world with all these adventures, be sure to pick up the clues. On Beth's webpage is a secret link--LOOK for it, and you'll SEE it. But it's password protected! To find the password, you'll need to go on the adventures with us, pick up the letters, and re-arrange them into the secret phrase.

What do you get for playing? On the password protected page there's tons of secret information about the book--hidden Easter Eggs, the surprising origins of one of the characters, and the unexpected inspiration behind the space ship. But, more than that--there's also a chance for prizes! Only accessible from the password protected page is a form to enter a drawing--the winner will get a signed and doodled ARC of Across the Universe, pin-buttons featuring the book, star-related swag--and a secret something else!

All you have to do is follow us across the blogosphere, pick up the letters, and unscramble the password! Your clue for today is...


So there you go--another clue. Anyone ready to guess the sekrit password yet??????

And since this is all about sharing world adventures, have any of you been anywhere cool (doesn't even have to be international) and have any stories you want to tell? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paying it Forward with Partials!!!!

Yes--in case you can't tell by the title--this post includes a giveaway!!! One I *think* you all will like. Though I'll admit--I'm scared. Things worked out okay the last time I did this, but there's always the possibility that it was a fluke. But before we get to yet another one of my neuroses, I should probably explain what the heck I'm talking about (might be helpful, right?) :)

As most of you have probably noticed by now, I'm all about "paying it forward." I've gotten (and still get) a TON of help/advice/support as I struggle to navigate this crazy publishing world, so I believe very strongly in paying forward as much as I can to others. So in that vein, I've teamed up with a few of my favorite bloggers for an event we're calling "paying it forward with parials."

Which means I'll be giving away a 25 page critique to one lucky commenter on today's post!*

(*Hence why where my neuroses come in--I'm SO scared none of you are going to want this. Last time a lot of you did, but maybe you were all in strange moods or something)

As someone who has braved the waters in the querying pool (mind you, I only queried for two weeks--but they felt like forever) I know how important it is to have an especially strong "partial" for when an agent requests one. That's the key to hooking them enough to ask for your "full." 

I had a LOT of help with my partial, (I mean, A LOT. Like...you have no idea how many times I have rewritten my first 25 pages). So now I want to pay that forward and help one of you with yours by personally critiquing your first 25 pages.

If that sounds like something you'd like, make sure you're a follower of my blog and leave a comment on this post between now and 11:59 pm (PST) on Sunday, November 14th. I'll draw one random winner and post the winner on November 15th. (Oh, and in case you're wondering, you do not have to write middle-grade or YA to enter. I'll critique pretty much anything you want--though I'm *not* sure I'd be much help with a picture book)

But wait--there's more! (Heh--I LOVE when I get to channel my inner infomercial announcer).

I'm not the only one giving away a 25 page critique today. In fact, I've teamed up with FIVE other awesome writers (all of them WAY cooler than me) who are also giving away partial critiques!!! (Yeah...you're reading that right. This is a TREMENDOUS opportunity guys.)

So make sure you hop over to their blogs and enter for a chance to win their critique as well (I've turned their names into links so you can click right over). Look at the incredible talent participating:

P.J. (Tricia) Hoover: My lovely, fabulous, and adorable agent-in-law. Oh, and she's also the awesome writer behind The Forgotten Worlds books--and she's read some of my pages so I can personally attest to her incredible critiquing skillz. (Her and I also have way too much fun on Skype, though any shenanigans are completely HER fault. *adjusts halo* *bats eyelashes*). 

Elana Johnson: Query ninja, blogging extraordinaire and soon-to-be literary powerhouse, once her debut novel, Posession is released in 2011. She will whip your pages into shape like you wouldn't believe (speaking from personal experience here). She also may or may not be a cyborg--or has figured out a way to bend the space-time continuum, because I swear she has more hours in the day than the rest of us.

Lisa and Laura Roecker: Yes--THE LiLa, the geniuses behind The Liar Society, coming in 2011. So you get two sets of fabulous eyes on your draft for the price of one. And they are equally smart, talented, and awesome. Win and WIN. (Though many of us wonder if there really ARE two of them. I mean, has anyone *really* proven that "Laura" isn't just an actress hired by "Lisa" to cover for her during her maternity leave?)

Sarah Wylie: Yep, I'm sharing one of The Sara(h)s--which kills me because I rely way too heavily on this girl. Her talent is incredible, as you will all see in 2012 when her book, All These Lives debuts. So you can borrow her--but you can't have her! (Also--yes, that really is her in the picture. She *thought* she was all smart with her hiding all the pictures of herself online. But she forgot I knew where to find one. *evil laugh*)

So leave a comment here (please please please let there be some people who want this so I don't look pathetic) and then don't forget to hop over to all the other girls and enter over there too. 

Good luck--and Happy Monday!

**Oh, and sorry for no Marvelous Middle Grade Monday this week. I promise I'll make it up to you soon. PLUS, the lovely Shannon O'Donnell (who I tend to think of as "the better Shannon") has kindly taken up the reigns for me and done a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday Feature on her blog today (with a GIVEAWAY!). I highly recommend you hop over there and check it out. (And if anyone else has done one this week let me know and I will gladly add linkage. The more we can spread the word for Middle Grade, the better!)**

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lots and Lots of Winners

Hey guys!

Sorry I'm late getting these posted--I didn't realize how many winners I had to draw! And since I've already made you wait, I'll get right to it.

First up, the winner of THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is...


*tosses confetti*

The winner of the signed ARC of THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA (and the signed limited edition sketchbook is)...


*tosses more confetti*

And the 2 winners of the extra sketchbooks are...



*tosses...er...has run out of confetti, so...SHAKES POM POMS!*

So if you see your name there, check your email, you should find one from me begging for your mailing address (and if you can't find the email, please contact me at packratx [at] hotmail [dot] com). 

For the rest of you, thank you so much for entering. I promise I'll be hosting another awesome giveaway soon (*hint* You might want to check back on Thursday) ;)

And there won't be a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday Feature next week--but that's because I'm taking part of an awesome "pay it forward" event with a prize I really hope you'll all want. So lots of exciting things to come. Make sure you don't miss out. ;)

Hope everyone's having a great weekend! See you back on Monday!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bookanista Review: Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Today's Bookanista Review is long overdue. I scored an ARC for Jewell Parker Rhodes' NINTH WARD back in July (yes--JULY!) from Jennifer Hunt at her Little Brown panel at SCBWI LA. I've been dying to read it ever since (you should've heard the way she gushed about it). But the last few months have been so crazy/hectic/I-haven't-had-time-to-eat-sleep-breathe that I just found the time to read it Tuesday. And boy have I been missing out!

But before I get to the gushing, here's the lovely cover:

And the official blurb:

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show a powerful hurricane--Katrina--fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family--as only love can define it.

Okay, NOW I can get to the gushing. :)

Let me put it this way: I read this book in one sitting. It kept me up till 1:30am--on a night when I was sooooooooooooo tired. But I couldn't put it down--which, I must admit, completely surprised me.

I mean, I'd expected to love the writing. I'd planned on finding beautiful prose and fabulous characters (both of which it definitely delivers). But...it's about Hurricane Katrina. I kinda know how that story goes, yanno? The hurricane hitting. The levies failing. The tragedy and destruction. I watched it all unfold on the news as it happened. So I wasn't expecting a book on the topic to cause that OMG-I-can't-put-this-down-I-have-to-know-what's-going-to-happen-next reaction. But it SO did. 

It kind of reminded me of when my friends dragged me to see Titanic all those years ago (yes--dragged. I might have been the only teenage girl not swept up in Leo-Mania.) My thought was: THREE HOURS??? BUT I ALREADY KNOW HOW IT'S GOING TO END!!!! So I was stunned to find myself sitting on the edge of my seat wondering when the iceberg was going to hit. 

I think when you're really invested in the characters, knowing what's coming actually increases the tension--because you know the terrible things that are about to happen to them and you want to make sure they make it through okay. That was definitely the case with this book, at least. 

I loved Lanesha. She's a smart, sweet, wonderful little girl, and it was heartbreaking watching her world get torn apart by the storm. Especially because you really get to see how friendly and supportive her community in the Ninth Ward is, the way all the neighbors know each other and share with each other. Really makes you feel the loss of a place like that, all the friends and families scattered--if they made it out safely. (Oh, and yeah, after reading the chapters during the storm I can say for a fact that I will NOT be moving to a hurricane zone anytime soon.) 

But it was also heartwarming, watching Lanesha use her bravery and resourcefulness to fight her way through the chaos and flooding. Watching her never give up, never put herself ahead of others, never stop to feel sorry for herself. I'm sure there are plenty of real life Lanesha's out there who fought the same fight during Katrina, and I really hope they tell their stories someday. It's an amazing legacy of survivors.

So yeah, in case you can't tell--I loved this book. It's page-turning, elegant, and unlike most other things I've read. (It even has kind of a Sixth Sense vibe going on.) Definitely worth checking out when you have time. (It's available for purchase now) And share it with your kids. Make sure they understand what Hurricane Katrina was really all about. What was really lost. And what it took to fight through.

For more awesome book recommendations, check out what my fellow Bookanistas are up do today:

Elana Johnson marvels over The Mockingbirds
Lisa and Laura Roecker dish about The Love Goddess' Cooking School
Christine Fonseca is nostalgic over books she loved growing up
Megan Miranda adores The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Myra McEntire raves about NetGalley
Kirsten Hubbard considers the good, the bad and the ugly impact of reviews
Bethany Wiggins can't get enough of Black Hole Sun
Jamie Harrington is thrilled about The Secret Society of the Pink Crystal Ball

Oh, and one last aside: I'm being interviewed over at Jessica Lawlor's blog today. So if you want to learn a little bit more about me--or just feel like taking pity on me and stopping by so the post won't look too pathetic--you should hop over there and check it out. Comments are *always* appreciated. :)