Progress Report

Or: A Retrospective on My Writing Journey

Nearly a decade after starting my first “real” story (i.e. the first one I realized I wanted to finish, no matter what), I am still not finished with a complete draft. That might be depressing to some who aspire to finish their newest tale in under a year, but I knew when I started that I was undertaking a large task in attempting it: the story includes an enormous cast of characters, creating their world from the ground up, setting up a history of at least two hundred years, putting political systems in place (and the different monarchs use very different systems of ruling!!), learning about military campaigns…. The list never really ends, and the stories of minor characters have moved beyond my control, so that now when I mention it to friends in-the-know, I lovingly call it “The Epic.”

I didn’t set out to spend ten years trying to write the thing ( I probably would have balked at even starting if I’d known!) At the time, I wrote to keep myself awake through long midnight shifts at my job. The story grew out of an idea for fanfiction that quickly passed the bounds of those characters, and as I begin coming up with their names and feeling out their story, I realized that I had something unique, and for the first time started to consider myself a writer, and not just someone who liked to write. Continue reading

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Book Review: Bridge of Clay

BOCTitle: Bridge of Clay

Author: Markus Zusak

Blurb: The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome? Continue reading

Author Interview: Joanna Hathaway

Pen Friends, I’m so excited to introduce you to debut YA Author, Joanna Hathaway who will talk about her YA Fantasy (with Historical aspects), Dark of the West, which comes out February tomorrow, the 5th!!! Let’s hear what she has to say about books, publishing, marketing and more!

JHSP: Hi, Joanna! Thanks for joining us! Congrats on your debut coming out in February! I bet you’re getting excited!  But before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

JH: Thanks so very much for having me! Yes, it’s getting very exciting, and as you mentioned, Dark of the West is my debut. It’s my first book to be published — but it’s also the first book I’ve ever finished! I started working on it when I was in university, over a decade ago, and it was the only story that stuck with me through the years. I like to say that I “grew up” as a writer with this book. I’ve revised it so many times, and in so many different ways, that it’s taught me most of what I know about craft at this point. I know many authors write a few different books before they reach The One, but for me it took agonizing over countless drafts to makeDark of the West become The One!Dark of the West

SP: Your debut, Dark of the West, will come out February 5th! From the first moment I read your description, I knew I would LOVE this book!

Here is a blurb:

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe. Continue reading

Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

cinder

Title: Cinder (The first book in The Lunar Chronicles.)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Blurb:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

With high-stakes action and a smart, resourceful heroine, Cinder is a Cinderella retelling that is at once classic and strikingly original. MM.jpg

Review: I want to start my review with the quote (below) from Entertainment Weekly. This quote–the concept for Cinder–hooked me into reading the book in a way my friends couldn’t. I was so intrigued by mashing these genres/titles together, I simply had to see how she had done it.

“An interesting mash up of fairy tales and science fiction . . . a cross between Cinderella, Terminator, and Star Wars.” ―Entertainment Weekly

 

All I can say is WOW. I was blown away by the creativity and imagination that went into creating this plot & series!

Characters/Voice: Once I started the book with this quote in mind I easily slipped into Cinder’s voice. She was sympathetic and I loved getting to know her story, and of course the quote had me rooting for her from the beginning. Prince Kai, Queen Levana, Peony and Cinder’s step mom were all well done; easy to read and follow and had depth. I could easily see their motives. The book moved between the scenes and characters with such great timing I was invested in each story line and character.

Pacing: The pace kept me reading and invested the entire time. It was hard to put down.  Mainly because that same quote had me asking questions. How will Meyers do this? I loved the weaving of the plot and the mystery. Seriously, it was so well done!

Plot:  The plot is super creative because as you read in the blurb, Cinderella is a cyborg set in a future world with the threats of wars and conspiracy. The main plot and sub plots are complex and full of mystery and suspense. It’s believable and fun.

Setting: Loved this imagined future world. Loved the scientific developments and new technology. Loved the descriptions of New Beijing and the Eastern Common Wealth and Luna, the moon civilization. Loved the backstory on the history of World War 3 and 4, and how the earth was redivided. Her writing and description was not dry in any way.  A perfect balance between setting and plot and character and pace.

Themes/ Audience: The themes that were most obvious were standing for what is right and finding your true identity and being ok with who you are. As for audience, I gave this book to my Dad because he loves Sci-FI and he loved it! LOL. He is already on book 3 (as am I.) It is also totally appropriate for younger ages. Needless to say, I would totally recommend this book to younger and older teens (and even adults who love fantasy, fairytales, or sci-fi-fi action books!)

wagas cafe author photo 1

 

Nova, Author of YA Contemporary Action/Adventure & Fantasy, signing off! See Nova’s book stuff here and her latest book news announcement – I’ll give you a hint–film is involved.

Book Review: Just For Clicks

just for clicks book mockup photoTitle: Just For Clicks  (Release date: February 19, 2019)

Author: Kara McDowell

Blurb: Mommy blogs are great . . . unless the blog happens to belong to your mom.

Twin sisters Claire & Poppy are accidental social media stars thanks to Mom going viral when they were babies. Now, as teens, they’re expected to contribute by building their own brand. Attending a NY fashion week and receiving fan mail is a blast. Fending off internet trolls and would-be kidnappers? Not so much. Poppy embraces it. Claire hates it. Will anybody accept her as “just Claire”? And what should Claire do about Mom’s old journals? The handwritten entries definitely don’t sound like Mom’s perfect blog persona. Worse, one of them divulges a secret that leaves Claire wondering what else in her life might be nothing but a sham . . .

Review: If you love Contemporary YA, especially ones with swoony unique characters, slow burning romance, fresh concepts and plot twists you CANNOT guess, then you will love Just for Clicks!

I had the privilege of reading an early copy this book–be jealous! kara mcdowell author photo 2

 

Characters/Voice: One of the aspects I love most about this book is the VOICE. So well done! Claire is one of the most relatable characters and I could identify with her immediately. Poppy and Rafael, even her mom, get under your skin too because you get to know them all in a very real, vulnerable way.

Pacing: The pace and plot were steady and fresh the whole time and kept me turning pages and man– the twists— I did not see them coming. Well done, Kara. Sorry, y’all == no spoilers!

Plot:  As for the story, the plot is wonderfully executed and thought out. (see synopsis above!) I thought the plot (& concept) was genius for today’s audience and I was amazed at how well Kara wrote it! The phenomenon of youth online, blogging, texting, youtube, reality shows, etc. It was so real to me, I felt that this could be an actual story online the entire time! lol.

Setting: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Arizona and I loved it. It was so different from where I’ve lived that learning about how the weather at Thanksgiving could be 90 degrees and how that effected life made me feel the setting in a fresh way. The high school was a typical American set-up, but in each place Kara set the moment, whether at home or outside. I was there.

Themes: “Breezy and fresh meditation on privacy and relationships in the internet age, with a likable protagonist who would rather code than braid her hair for a fashion vlog.” (Fiction. 12-18)

**This is a clip from the Kirkus Review, which I recommend reading the full review here.

Audience: I would totally recommend this book to younger and older teens (and even moms!)

wagas cafe author photo 1

 

Nova, Author of YA Contemporary Action/Adventure & Fantasy, signing off! See Nova’s book stuff here.

Guest Post: Championing Our Words

green-chameleon-21532-unsplash.jpg

My writing dream all began when an innocent teacher said the fateful words, “Wow! You’re a good writer!”

And a monster was born.

I’ve been writing since middle school, more seriously since high school, and first tried to get published over five years ago. (*I’m still not yet published.) Over that period of time, I’ve made a lot of  mistakes and learned many valuable lessons. But here I am still plugging away at my writing & publishing dream. Why do we writers torture ourselves this way?

We have words inside us that need to be heard.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Kara McDowell

Pen Friends~ today’s interview is special because I was along side YA debut author Kara Jean McDowell as a fellow 2016 PitchWars mentee, witnessed her get an agent, and then a book deal, and now her book, Just For Clicks, will come out in February!

kara mcdowell author photo 1

SP: Hi Kara! Thanks for joining us. Before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?

KM: Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Kara McDowell. I live with my husband and three young kids in Arizona. When I’m not writing or reading, I like to boat, bake, go on road trips, and watch Netflix.

SP: Your debut, Just for Clicks, will come out Feb 2019. First, we LOVE your incredibly adorable, genius, and timely idea!

Here is a blurb: Continue reading

Book Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

to all book

Title: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (first of a trilogy)

Author: Jenny Han

Blurb: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

jenny han

Review:  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was on my TBR list for quite a while. Unfortunately—or fortunately?—the movie adaptation came out on Netflix and I couldn’t resist all the gushing reviews, so I—GASP!—watched the movie first. Let’s just say the book immediately jumped the queue on my reading list and was just as enjoyable as the flick. You’ll cheer Lara Jean on from start to finish, swoon over Peter Kavinsky, and crave a bite of every cookie Lara Jean bakes. The story is charming and will give you all the warm and fuzzies as it takes you back to your first crush and first love.

Netflix's "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" Los Angeles Special Screening

Characters/Voice: What’s not to like about Lara Jean? She is such a compelling, likeable, and relatable narrator…someone you’d want to be friends with. You’ll adore the two other Song girls—Margot and Kitty—too. Even as secondary characters, they shine with their own backstories, motivations, and insecurities. Margot, Lara Jean, and Kitty’s sisterly love will have you wanting to be one of the Song girls as well. And then there’s Peter. And Josh. You’ll be fans of them, too.

Pacing: This is one of those books you can easily settle into a comfy spot and finish in one or two sittings. You’ll keep flipping the pages to find out what happens with Lara Jean and her letters next. 

Plot: The plot is wonderfully executed. The idea of writing secret love letters that are suddenly mailed is irresistible, especially as the consequences ensue and Lara Jean has to juggle all the new complications in her life. The story ends at a point where you’re satisfied, but also giddy with the knowledge that there’s more left to the story—two books, in fact!

Setting: Of all the places described, you’ll want to curl up on the couch in the Covey household and let the scent of freshly baked cookies wash over you as you witness the hilarity, drama, and heartache the Song girls experience together.
Themes: This story deals with relatable themes like the value of family, friendships, and telling the truth even when it’s difficult.

Now onto books 2 and 3: P.S. I Still Love you and Always and Forever, Lara Jean!

Jessica Jade

Jessica, signing off.

 

Author Interview: Sarah Carlson

Pen Friends ~ You’re in for a treat today! We have debut Ya author, Sarah Carlson, here to talk about her upcoming book, All the Walls of BelfastFind out she got her agent and what keeps her going as she shares about her querying, publishing, marketing, traveling dreams, and writing process & journey. Learning from and listening to other authors can help us a lot. Enjoy!

SC, pic

SP: Hi Sarah! Thanks for joining us. First, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

SC: Hey, thanks for having me! I write contemporary YA that touches on issues that make you think. By day, I’m a school psychologist working at an elementary school; my focus is on supporting mental health and behavioral needs. I also work to support and directly intervene around children who have been exposed to trauma. I’ve loved writing since 4thgrade, when I got picked to represent my grade at a writing competition. In middle school, it was hundreds of pages of Stephen King fan fic scrawled on loose-leaf paper. Then high school saw me creating an epic universe for a sci-fi novel that grew to over 240,000 words and will never again see the light of day. Continue reading

Book Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Legendary cover

Title: Legendary

Author: Stephanie Garber

Blurb:

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name. Continue reading