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2017 Favorites

Nothing like sliding in at the last moment to keep your blog from dying after six months hibernation….

51ssdFWWxAL._AC_UL320_SR212,320_//READING//

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

I was a latecomer to Lockwood & Co., so I got to read ALL FIVE THIS YEAR. This series rocketed to one of my favs, and I’m already dying to re-read them all again. I feel like an acolyte for the Gospel of Stroud, fervently pressing copies into strangers’ hands on street corners. If you haven’t read them yet, you’re in for a treat.

61gLkAo-nGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

As a swoony fan of CIRCUS MIRANDUS, I was over the moon to discover Cassie Beasley had a second book coming out this year, and then I got to meet her at the Mississippi Book Festival and she autographed my copy of TUMBLE & BLUE. And guess what… I loved it even *more* than CM. It offers everything I adore in fiction: strong southern voice, cursed families, and wannabe heroes (plus a snarky, golden alligator!). Hands down, pure magic.

first-class-murder-9781481422185_hrFirst Class Murder by Robin Stevens

If you wish Agatha Christie had written middle-grade novels, then look no further. While FIRST CLASS MURDER  has been out for several years in the UK, it released in the US only this year and is my favorite of the series so far. It’s a delightful homage to MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, and the case and secondary characters were particularly good. I can’t wait to pick up JOLLY FOUL PLAY in April!

maass-emotional//WRITING//

The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

This book takes the cake, the plate, and all the utensils because it is a-mazing. Maass’s insights into what makes us love a good book are spot-on, and his exercises are helpful in applying these principles to writing. It’s engaging, not-repetitive, and just the right length for a wide-scope without drowning you in information. In short, best craft book I read last year, and I can’t wait to re-read it soon.

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Pacemaker

Do you love the stress of NaNoWriMo and miss the adrenaline rush of obsessing over charts and graphs? Never fear, Pacemaker is here to fulfill all your staying-on-target needs! Unlike that one crazy month of the year, Pacemaker can be set to whatever pace you want. You can set it to take certain days off, different goals for different days, or randomize a daily goal if you like masochistic surprises.

linguistic focus

Scrivener 3

I waffled over whether or not to upgrade to Scrivener 3 (which at $25 seemed like a hefty upgrade), and at first glance most of the changes seem cosmetic––smooth, rounded edges and muted tones. But there a couple new features that really excite me, one of which is “Linguistic Focus” (highlighted in the lovely blurred pane). This option allows you to highlight a certain part of speech within a selection (nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, etc.) or even DIRECT SPEECH. I’m dying to revise something now (and how often do we feel like saying that? ;)). Special mention to the expanded writing progress report, which now shows *daily* progress (woot woot), and to the simplified compiler (hallelujah).

//SAVING TIME//

Be Focused

I picked up the (free) Be Focused timer after reading about the Pomodoro technique, 800x500bband it helped me more than anything else in adjusting to this new, wonderful, writing-with-a-baby life in which I have to write for concentrated bursts like my life depends on it or nothing gets done. The idea is you work for ~25 minutes with 5 minute breaks between. There are lots of options for timers (or you could set them yourself on your own timer), but I like that this one sits just where I can see it above my writing window but isn’t a distraction.

Be Focused: simple, unobtrusive, and free.

(Did I mention it’s free?)

BUT IF THAT’S NOT ENOUGH….

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Forest

I’m really torn over this app. It’s highly effective and I really enjoy it, but the principle still seems ridiculous. For those of us who need an extra incentive to stay off our phones for extended periods of time, Forest acts as a guilt-inducing guardian of the screen. Set a timer for how long you want to focus, plant a seed, and if the app stays open for the allotted time, voila! You have a tree. Fill up your garden each day and pat yourself on the back for being so focused…or kill the app and kill your plant-in-progress and stare at its withered branches all day.

Like I said. Guilt-inducing. But effective. (And $2.99). Very helpful when I’m trying to read while expecting an email. 😛

Grammarly

Finally, a GRAMMAR & SPELLING-CHECKER THAT ACTUALLY WORKS. This baby catches [almost] everything. I use the browser plug-in, and it checks it all: fb posts, tweets, and blog posts (like this one, which would have been riddled with spelling and grammar errors that my caffeine-high brain didn’t notice). I use the free version on my desktop too, but I hear that the premium upgrade can even be plugged into Scrivener…

Get behind me, Satan.

//WASTING TIME//

Reigns

Reigns-intro-screen
I mean, sure, none of us need help wasting time, but in case you’re so inclined…
Reigns is a simple game that somehow grows both easier and harder the longer you play. There is only one motion allowed in the game, swiping cards either left or right as you make choices during your reign as king. I’ve heard it described as Tinder meets a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and I guess that about sums it up…but the story’s levels keep unfolding the longer you play, so just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you doubt everything you’ve learned.
To bring this back to writing, one of the elements I love is how all choices have an effect later in the game. So if you decide to build a dam on one card, later that might very well cause disease to fester in the stagnant water, so then you have to improve hygiene, which could then lead to other unintended consequences. (The gameplay is pretty repetitive, so if you pay attention you start to realize the consistent effects of certain actions.) A round is usually pretty quick (~5 minutes or less), so this is also a perfect take-a-break game between writing bursts.
(There’s also a Queen version out now, but I’m determined to beat this one first. I feel like the answer is staring me in the face…gahhhh don’t tell me!!)

n.b. // The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Barnhill_GirlWhoDrankMoon_FINAL_PRNT.inddI read The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill after it won the Newberry though it languished in my TBR pile for far too long (thanks, library-holds-all-coming-available-at-once!). But while reading, all I could think was, “DUH it won.” It is breath-taking, heart-wrenching, and swoon-worthy.

Several things in particular fascinated me about this book (beyond Barnhill’s ability to transform words into pure magic): Continue reading “n.b. // The Girl Who Drank the Moon”

Pitch Wars Miscellany

So this time my absence has a good reason…

After being chosen for Pitch Wars, I spent the past two months polishing my MS and preparing it for the agent round (which begins tomorrow, egads!).

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And now Doomsday is upon us, and all the MG writers are freaking out behind the scenes after watching the A/NA entries rack up requests on day one.

omg-excited

So before I disappear into a cone of solitude as I attempt to ride out the next week with my sanity intact, here are the pertinent deets for those interested in my MG contemporary fantasy, THE CURIOUS CURSE OF THE LONELY LIBRARY.

Interview w/ Ashley Martin (Mentor) et moi

Pitch & First Page Excerpt 

And for fun, #novelaesthetics

n.b // Rebecca Behrens

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Who needs to blog every [other] month?! Not I.

Ahem.

I kicked off my summer MG reading with these two delightful books by Rebecca Behrens, both with charming female protagonists shaped by their interactions with characters from the past. [Note, mild spoilers ahead]

In When Audrey Met Alice, 13yo Audrey is struggling to adjust to the role of First Daughter and stumbles across the diary of Alice Roosevelt, whose [mis]adventures inspire Audrey to some shenanigans and maturing of her own. If you enjoyed 90s movies about White House kids, you’ll enjoy this one. Continue reading “n.b // Rebecca Behrens”

Pitch Wars Bio

I’m a Latin teacher living with my husband and menagerie (two cats + corgi) in Alabama. I wrote a lot of stories in middle school and high school, determined to be the next Agatha Christie, but gave up in despair and went to college. No creative writing happened for a long time, but there was a whole lot of reading and thinking and growing.

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And then one summer I found myself between jobs with literally nothing to do. Literally. I played a lot of Civilization (SPQR) and started my first [Roman-empire-sized] quilting project. I don’t even remember what drove me back to writing that summer, but it was like the returning home montage in a Hallmark movie. Continue reading “Pitch Wars Bio”

n.b. // Books about Books

25387393I didn’t purposefully pair these two books to be read at the same time,  but Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein  and Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman complement each other nicely. Both stories center around book-centric puzzle games, and I would recommend them to anyone who likes to work out problems within the text as they read.

But the two stories also make for an interesting contrast in strengths. While I think Mr. Lemoncello takes the prize for colorful, laugh-out-loud characters, Book Scavenger pulls off a more subtle, touching plot.

Continue reading “n.b. // Books about Books”

n.b. // Circus Mirandus

51jQ6iYFVqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I saw reviews comparing Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach and cynically thought it wasn’t possible…but now I think that wasn’t high enough praise. (I would add Mary Poppins to that list of comps.)

Circus Mirandus is charming, bittersweet, and timeless.

A shy boy, a dying grandfather, a mean aunt, and a magical circus – in a bare list those ingredients sound standard enough for middle grade fare, but in Ms. Beasley’s hands they are translated into lyrical prose. Continue reading “n.b. // Circus Mirandus”

def8a-haft_library

“[The library] was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be rules by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

 Eco, Name of the Rose

requiescat in pace