RTW: All My Favoritest Books of June

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: (Back by popular demand!) What's the best book you've read this month?

Wait, I can only pick one?!?!? I've actually read a surprising number of books in June; surprising because I've also been doing heavy rewrites and they're usually incompatible. Either I can't turn my editor off enough to enjoy the book, or I enjoy it so much that it interferes with my character's voice (speaking of voice, check out this post from May on YA books that do an excellent job with voice).

I was going to mention Divergent by Veronica Roth, but apparently I've lost all sense of time because that came out in early May. Bought it on release date and read it in two days.

So since we didn't do a Best Book for May, I nominate that one.

For June, I'm just going to list all the books I read, since they were all good:

These Best Book RTWs are a love/hate thing for me! I love discovering all these book recs, but I hate that my to-be-read pile increases exponentially!

I've been so caught up in revisions that I haven't been able to stay on top of contests and such like I used to, sorry!

The KP Prize has a postmarked deadline of June 30, but since you can submit novel excerpts as well as short fiction, I'm going to post the details anyway. There just might be someone out there who has the perfect story or stand-alone excerpt ready to go! So here are the details from their contest page:

*One overall first place winner receives $1,000 and publication!
Three runners-up receive $100 each. One runner-up from the YA (young adult) entries, one from the Middle Grade entries, and one from the Picture Book or Writing for Young Children entries chosen.

*$20 entry fee.

*Entries must be postmarked by June 30th

*Submit one story or novel excerpt up to 10,000 words. You may include a synopsis if your entry is an excerpt, but an excerpt should still work as a stand-alone piece

*Work must be original, written in English, and previously unpublished

*Your name or address should not appear anywhere on the work

*Once submitted, entries cannot be altered

*All entries will be considered for general publication as well as for the Katherine Paterson Prize (My MG short story, Hornworms, was published in Hunger Mountain and it was a genuine pleasure to work with the editorial staff)

*No artwork, or translations please

*Multiple entries allowed—each entry must include a separate entry fee

*Winners will be announced in September

This year's judge is Kimberly Willis Holt. Good luck to everyone who enters!

Pumpkins Gone Wild

If you remember from my post last year, when we'd just installed the beds, the garden is doing much better this year. Last year we had such wet, cold weather into June that I didn't even plant anything until July 4th weekend.

We had a similar weather pattern this year, but I decided to forge ahead with the planting anyway. I used Wall o'Waters on the peppers (next year I'll use homemade ones) and they also gave some radiant heat to the tomatoes planted next to them. So now my tomatoes and peppers are looking pretty good, even without the WOWs. You can tell it's transitioning from planting seasons, since the cabbages and chard are still going, and the sweet potatoes are just starting (those are the arrow-shaped leaves in the foreground).

And then there are my pumpkins gone wild! We had a mound of soil that didn't fit in the beds, so I decided to plant the pumpkin seeds right in it, and they're loving it.

And as a final pic for this post, let's check in with the pollywogs in the fountain:

No limbs yet, but some of them are getting more frog-shaped!

And now I need to retreat to my revision-cave once again--after I put the potatoes out in the solar cooker to roast for supper, that is.

Anybody else have some season-extending tips to share?

And now, a special guest to help announce the winner of a signed copy of Through Endangered Eyes: a poetic journey into the wild by Rachel Allen Dillon from last Monday's interview and giveaway:

The tiger says, "The winner is melodycolleen!" Unfortunately, she neglected to leave her email address so that I could contact her for a mailing address. If you know melodycolleen, ask her to email me at strikingnotes(at)yahoo(dot)com so I can send her book! She has until July 4 to contact me, and if I don't hear from her I'll draw another name.

And to everyone else who entered, thanks for stopping by and sorry we couldn't give copies to all of you!

Don't forget--he was only accepting manuscripts until June 24,2011, so you'll need to wait for the next open period. But it's still useful to get his take on romance in YA by reading below:
Andrew Karre had some interesting things to say on the Carolrhoda blog about romance in YA. It's a long (but insightful) post, so I picked out a few pertinent bits for what he's soliciting now for YA manuscripts:

"I’m increasingly interested in the romantic arc of YAs where there is a central romance. Specifically, I’m concerned with the end of that ARC. Do YA romances tend unswervingly toward a marital apotheosis, whether actual or implied?

Marriage is a powerful force in our storytelling traditions. A marriage is the formal ending of almost any Elizabethan comedy. . . So it’s no surprise it comes up in YA, but I’m wondering if there is unexplored territory here due to to the overwhelming pull of The Wedding on our stories (I’m looking at you, epilogue to Deathly Hallows).

I think one of the trickiest things about YA is that it is fundamentally anti-ending, despite all the ceremony we associate with the end of high school. . .Teenagers make their peace with uncertainty as they end adolescence, but they don’t resolve that uncertainty. This applies to relationships (what is a marriage if not a resolution of uncertainty?).

I’ll take queries for existing manuscripts that address this theme. I’m interested in YAs with central romances that know they’re doomed (and not for extraordinary reasons—fatal illnesses, galactic cataclysm, etc.) and how they cope. Go here for how to send queries. The query offer is good until 11:59 PM on June 24, 2011."

And by existing manuscripts, he means finished and polished. Don't waste this chance with something you've pulled out of a dusty drawer--he doesn't open to submissions all that often!

P.S. Sunday June 19 is the last day to enter to win a signed copy of Through Endangered Eyes: a poetic journey into the wild. If you know a child who loves animals (even if it's your inner child), you want this book!

RTW: Paris & a Boy

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: You're re-reading one of your favs when someone asks the dreaded question: "What's that book about?" Give us your best off-the-cuff blurb of any book, any genre, and have your readers try to guess the title in the comments!

Thought I'd do a book that I read last week; it should be well-known enough that people can guess it.

"So there's this girl that gets sent to Paris for her last year of high school, and you think she'd be way excited but she's actually really lonely and missing her friends. And then she meets this totally hot guy that makes Paris much more interesting, and it seems like he likes her a lot too--maybe they'll be more than friends? Oh, but he has a girlfriend. And she has a boy back home that's an almost-boyfriend. But otherwise they're perfect for each other . . ."

Did I make it too easy? Put your guess in the comments!

P.S. Pitch University is doing another Pitchfest this week, and the entries and agents' feedback will be posted next week (video pitches and queries). There is still time to submit, but it's also a really good learning experience since you can see all the submissions and feedback in one place.

P.P.S. The contest to win a signed copy of picture book Through Endangered Eyes: a poetic journey into the wild is open through Friday! Just comment on Monday's post to enter.

Crows at Rest--a Teaser from Crow's Rest

Since today is once again devoted to revisions on Spirits from the Vasty Deep, I wanted to do a tiny teaser from Crow's Rest here. This scene is fairly close to the beginning, and Avery has already had some weirdness that day from Bobbin, the neighbor's Corgi.

Outside, the stars unfolded without the interference of streetlights, and a chorus of insects buzzed in the summer night. I grabbed my bag from the car and went around to the back of the cottage, since the bathroom was right next to the sleeping porch and I could avoid going through the kitchen and talking to Mom and Uncle Tam again.

I turned my gaze to Daniel's house without meaning to, and I saw Bobbin standing with his paws on the fence, watching me silently. Above him, the leaves of the sycamore shifted and rustled without the wind's help. A sound like muffled croaks and squeaks—or whispers—joined the rustling.

I stowed the bag inside the screen door, and grabbed the high-powered flashlight that Uncle Tam kept for emergencies. The beam played across the leaves and branches, glinting off of countless eyes and ruffled feathers. What the hell? I caught myself clutching my chest like a B-movie star.

Taking a few steps forward, I squinted to get a better look at whatever was watching me from the tree. A barrage of caws and croaks rang out from the flock of crows. As the light shone on them again, they snaked their heads in my direction and made a rattling sound in their throats—like I was a red-tailed hawk after their nestlings.

"All right, hush," I called to them. "If you'll be good neighbors, then I'll be a good neighbor."

The birds quieted instantly, making the hairs rise on my neck and arms. Glinting eyes focused on me with an air of anticipation. This was just beyond weird. I turned and ran back to the house with my arms covering my head, half-expecting to feel sharp beaks bloodying my scalp at any moment.

But I made it to the screen porch safely, and hastily drew closed the old sheets that served as drapes. I'd probably stifle in the heat and need to open them again later, but for now I didn't want all those dark eyes trained on me.

Discover Dot Painting with Rachel Allen Dillon

Rachel Allen Dillon took some time from her busy life as a mom and author/illustrator extraordinaire to answer some questions about her projects. She's also generously provided a signed copy of her book to give away (details below)! Thanks, Rachel!
Rachel graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Art, emphasizing Graphic Design. She combined a passion for animals, children, and creative expression, to write and illustrate her first book, Through Endangered Eyes - a poetic journey into the wild (Albert Finney/Windward Publications, 2009). She is currently working on a second endangered species book, Through Desert Eyes (Finney/Windward Publications, Spring 2012). Rachel completed the text and research last summer, and is now working on the illustrations.
ARJ: If I remember correctly, in your first book, Through Endangered Eyes, you did the paintings first and the poems later. But for Through Desert Eyes, you've done the opposite--poems first, followed by the artwork. Why the change in technique, and do you recommend one way over the other?
Many of my illustrations for Through Endangered Eyes were painted first, and then I wrote the poems. Often, I didn’t connect the two. I figured the paintings, which were mostly just animal portraits in dots, worked fine on their own, and so did the poems. It wasn’t until I was starting to wrap up the first book that I started to allow the words of the poetry inspire the images. You can see that in “Speed of the Herd,” and “Worried about Melting World.” These illustrations are telling a story, and the poems take that story even further.

I am doing things differently for the second book, “Through Desert Eyes,” which is slated for a late Spring 2012 release. Each animal’s illustration spans across both pages, so that the words of the poem are sitting on the painting. I think it’s a much more powerful connection between the poem and the image. I wrote the book first, and turn to the words to inspire my illustrations. What’s funny though is that the last illustration I completed, which is more dynamic than my initial sketches, doesn’t fit the poem. So, I’ve gone back and revised the poem to fit the illustration. I guess that’s the benefit of being both the writer and artist, I have that flexibility.

ARJ: You've been to Australia, an influence that is clear in your dot painting. Did your travels there inspire you in other ways?

We traveled to Australia three times to visit family. My first trip there was when I was seven, a highly influential time in my life. My Australian uncle, who is very proud of his country, sent me a book when I was a teenager about Australian endangered species. I think that was the first time I really became aware there was a problem on our planet. I knew that panda’s were endangered, but seeing a book, and it was a big book, filled with endangered animals made an impact on me.

I was nineteen when I was exposed to Aboriginal acrylic dot painting. I had just decided to major in art at UW, Madison. It was a time when I was taking art history, and trying an assortment of mediums to figure out who I was as an artist. I combined how aesthetically pleasing mosaics were to me, and acrylic dot painting, and started to create my own style. To this day my technique is evolving (as you can see in this cheetah painting from Through Desert Eyes).

ARJ: Any cool facts you came across while doing research for Through Desert Eyes that you'd like to share? Do you have a new "favorite animal"?

Sometimes, I think my “ah ha,” moments seem silly to adults, but are great for kids. It makes sense that all desert species are able to handle living in such an extreme environment, but as I researched the animals that range from fish, reptile, marsupial and mammal it still shocked me how much they have in common.

As far as my favorite animal in the desert book, my heart strings are always pulled by big cats. I already know the cheetah will be my favorite painting, and I’m only a third of the way done with the illustrations. I think the species I’ve been most surprised by is the Desert Pupfish--now there is an extreme survivor.

ARJ: What else are you working on?

I am working on two young adult contemporary fantasies, one about young witches, and another about a girl that is part-lion (only on the inside.) I have gone back and forth between them, but I’m spending most of my time on a book titled, “The Lion Within.” I really enjoy this type of writing. I have been working on “The Lion Within” for two years, and have learned so much in the process, especially with the help of the two critique groups I work with.

Thanks so much, Rachel! And if you'd like to win a signed copy of Through Endangered Eyes, Honorable Mention Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award 2010, please leave a comment by Sunday, June 19 @9 PM Pacific (extended from Friday, June 17) and make sure to include your email if it's not in your profile. Winner will be announced on Monday May 20! (Sorry, only able to mail the book within the U.S)

Weekend Destination

I just realized I haven't done a hiking post with photos in a while. We had very mild temperatures in the area today, so my husband and I headed to Folsom Lake in Granite Bay. Lots of wildflowers and birds; we even spotted a blue-gray gnatcatcher on her nest (well, I spotted her and Tim identified her) on the trail to Beek's Bight.

Large parts of this park have been shuttered because of financial woes (or at least the access points and parking lots have) so the trails were the quietest we've seen them in years. If you don't count the bicyclists that come down the hills at breakneck speed. And by the way, in years past, the shoreline in this pic was about another 20-50 feet away:

RTW: Plotser

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: Do you like to make a detailed plan before you start a project? Or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go along?

The last few Road Trip Wednesdays, I've been posting fairly late in the day--I guess that would be pantsing. But today I made a special effort to get up early and type up my post before class (although I won't be able to tour everyone's posts until later)--plotting.

I don't see the topic until it's posted on YA Highway (didn't they used to post a "next week" headsup in the RTW posts?), however, so I have no idea what topic will be on the table, making it a pantser task. Or a hybrid plotser task. Hmm, that's pretty much how I've written things too, with a little bit of both methods sprinkled in. Not surprising since I'm a Gemini, is it?

In my first novel, I started out with a detailed outline and synopsis. It didn't necessarily include every single event and scene in the story, but there were specific scenes that were already very strong in my mind, down to snippets of dialogue and description.

This worked fairly well for the first 50 pages or so, but then my characters became developed enough to voice ideas of their own about where the story was going. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds, but since mostly other writers read this blog, I know you all get it!

I fought the new plot twists for a while, and then just went with it. I explored tangents, got to know new characters, indulged some research and description. And ended up with a 120,000 word monster of a book. So a lot of those tangents, research, subplots, and characters had to go, which ended up feeling like a lot of wasted effort.

By the time I started my second book, I had a few more conferences under my belt, over a year with a YA crit group, and found some strong betas, all adding to the experience I gained from writing that first book.

From the get-go, I felt like my second book was going to be so much more streamlined. I mulled subplots or scenes before I even sat down to type anything, discarding some and refining others. It was like learning music and improving your ear--I am better at "hearing" what is working.

And then an opportunity to practice my pitch and get a feel for how this story idea would be received came up on Pitch University. It felt like it was much earlier in the stage of the book writing than I would have chosen to pitch it, but I went ahead and wrestled with it and was actually fairly pleased with the results (you can see it up on my novels page above).

It helped me zero in even more on the characters and their relationships, the big conflicts, what the stakes are, etc. Pitch U has an opportunity for romance writers and YA authors to pitch later this month, so I would highly recommend that you take advantage of it!

What about you? Do you plot obsessively (in your book life, not your supervillain life if you have one) or fly by the seat of your pants?

Return to Preston Castle

I talked up the inspiration, Preston Castle, for the setting of my current WIP so much that our YA crit group decided to take a road trip there. And one junior member accompanied his mom, as you can see.

(Photo courtesy of Christina Mercer)It was a rainy, gray day, the perfect weather for a haunted castle. There were way more people than I expected, and I kind of longed for the days when I've been in there by myself, or nearly by myself. I'd never taken an official tour before, though, so it was nice to see that side of it.

Afterwards, we drove up to the graveyard where my WIP, Crow's Rest, starts out. Too wet to get out of the car, so we moved on to another little foothill town and did some shopping and had lunch.

These are the days when I know that I've made lifelong friends from our little crit group! And watch for an interview on next Monday with one of my crit partners, and I'll also be giving away a copy of her first book to a lucky winner!

Here's a bonus video of the interior of the castle:

RTW--Sweet Cadaver Lips

Monday was a blogging holiday, wasn't it? Yeah, I didn't post because we were out of town and didn't have time to set up an automatic post before we left. But today is Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors and followers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What is the strangest/weirdest thing you've ever researched?

So this is where the title of my post comes into play. And, no,it's not a zombie reference! I once saw an item in the newspaper on organ and tissue donors,and it listed all the ways that your body and parts are used when you donate it.

In addition to the well-known organ donations and medical school donations, they mentioned that lip augmentation can use tissue from cadavers. They don't actually transplant the lips; they instead insert or inject skin cells harvested from cadavers to give lips that puffy look.

I found this to be just horrifying enough to be fascinating, and knew it required further research. Thank goodness for the relative anonymity of the internet, where I could search for "cadaver lips" and "cadaver cosmetic surgery" and "corpsey lips" (okay, that last one was a search for the lyrics of "Lady Margaret") without getting strange looks. Though I'm not altogether sure that I'm not on some sort of watch list.

Today, while typing this post, I tried to find the links I'd seen before, but instead came across this:

Sigh. Another book for my reading list.

What about you? What's the weirdest thing you've researched in the name of writing? Don't forget to go to YA Highway and check out everyone's answers (you'll find them in the comments).