If you read YA chances are you read, or have read, Cassandra Clare. If you have not… Well, I have nothing to say other than… WTH!! You need to!

I know there will be a million and one reviews of City of Lost Souls out there, so I decided to do something different here. The last thing you need is yet another review of a book from a series that is not only a best seller, from a fab author who rocks our socks, but is also in the makings of a movie! The Mortal Instruments is one of my all time favorites series and I am here to tell you why. Why I rave about these books to anyone who will listen, and others who just tolerate my ramblings with near patience.
In short, these books have everything!
Raising an eyebrow? Questioning my sanity? Allow me to explain.
Now I’m no literary expert, but I know what I like. When my friend Rachel first introduced me to TMI, her words were something like “not too much on the romance, but they were pretty good.” But Rachel is a BIG romance fan. She said it had lots of demons, vampires, fae, and other stuff. This alone made me take City of Bones home. Oh, and she said the main guy, Jace, was pretty hot. That helped too. *wink*
As far as I’m concerned, Cassandra Clare is a master crafts…uh…woman for story telling. She wraps you around her little finger and takes you for a wild, crazy, heartbreaking ride. And you enjoy every minute of it. There is action, adventure, love, lust, friendships, enemies, characters you love, characters you hate, characters you LOVE to HATE, plot twists that leave you breathless, worlds so believable you look over your own shoulder…the whole tamale people!
My gateway drug to Fantasy Fiction was The Lord of the Rings. A tough read for a beginner I s’pose, but I was HOOKED. After that I got completely immersed in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (may he rest in peace). Another fantasy fave was the Forgotten Realms books from R.A. Salvatore.
Miss Cassie, for me, is on the lines of these books. Her worlds are so thought out it’s spooky. Every time I read one of her books I’m amazed at the detail she incorporates. The politics of Shadowhunter lives, the relations between Shadowhunter and Downworlder, and the history of the Nephilim race fascinates me.
But she doesn’t stop there. The plotting involved in Cassie’s books leaves my head spinning. It makes the writer in me BEG (and I mean beg to the point of delirium) to be a fly in the room as she plots a book. The characters’ lives twist in and out of each other so much I’m left in awe.
This is particularly noticeable with City of Lost Souls.
I’m sure there were references to previous Shadowhunters in the first four TMI books, but I don’t recall them offhand. While reading COLS, however, Cassie makes several references to her prequel series, The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince). Having read these books recently, they stuck out like a hobo clown at an Amish wedding. I can’t help but wonder if Cassie plans her books this way or if they just happen naturally, like magic, like slow churned vanilla ice cream and hot brownies, like peanut butter and chocolate…
I got so freakin’ giddy reading COLS it was really kind of pathetic. My writer side totally geeked out with how intertwined the plots are between the books. You don’t have to read one series to understand the other, since they both give the necessary background, but why would you not WANT to read both? And the connections are subtle too, which is awesome, so those readers who have read both series don’t feel like they’re being pulled out of one story and into another. From a passing glance that catches an odd angel pendant with gears and such for wings, a mysterious Silent Brother, Zachariah, and quick references to a lost love with dark hair and blue eyes… I just cannot help the fangirl in me!!!!
It really is books like The Mortal Instrument series, and the Infernal Devices, that inspire me to write. The deep seeded worlds of Shadowhunter life, or Middle Earth, or Menzobarrenzan make me want to create such rich worlds of my own. Horribly conflicted characters like Jace Lightwood, Will Herondale, Boromir, Frodo Baggins, and Drizzt Do’Urden inspire me to reach the ultimate conflicts with my own characters. To push them to their limits. To find what makes them break. And what will bring them back together again.
This is not to say other books don’t inspire me to write, and write well. There are just books you enjoy, and then there are books that take you to that place. That place, that space, between a totally happy voracious reader, and the other realm that gives you the drive to BE a part of that world. To create that feeling in the pit of the belly for others that you feel reading your favorite books. To make your readers want to WOOT out loud, to cry openly, to get so mad at a character you consider for a nanosecond throwing the book across the room, to fall in love, and to get so lost in a world it FEELS real…
That is what Cassandra Clare does for me. That is why I love her books. She is the whole package. I love her books, I love her worlds, I love her characters, but I also love the way she inspires the writer in me.
What about you? Who inspires YOU to write your pants off?


Supportively Supportive Support

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about support. The kind of support that ‘creative’s,’ such as myself, need to keep plugging along when the evil voice of self-defacement buzzes in our brains. I don’t like that voice. And I’d be willing to bet that many others are in agreement with me.

Now, I’m not sure, as I’m far from an expert, but I think, generally speaking, creative’s constantly seek approval. They need justification, a nod of encouragement, high fives, or “atta boy” cheers to feel…good about what they do. But I think that’s just part of being a creative, whether your outlet is writing, painting, crafting, cooking, or any other activity where you ‘create.’ Since there’s no black or white with creative things, we have to rely on the opinion of others to know if it’s…good.

It sounds insecure, I know, but it’s the truth. You can be a bad ass cook, the kind the likes of Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay or Paula Deen bow down to, but if your bunt cake tastes like poo… Well, no one is going to think you’re a good cook. See where I’m going with this? Same with writing or painting or photography, etc. If no one likes it, then A) nobody will buy it and B) you will lack the street cred for anything in the future.

So we creative folk need a support system for those lonely nights (or days since you might be a day person) when that evil voice in our head tells us we are poo, we have nothing, we will be nothing, give it up kid! Those brave souls who stand in our corner with mighty fists of encouragement, who listen to every random rambling about your latest musing, who will give you their honest opinion and then take you for ice cream (because ice cream and chocolate heal wounded egos, for real) are heroes for the creative mind. We need you!

I got to thinking about my own support system. My own wee cheering section.

I started life as a closet artist. Throughout school, a sketch pad and pencil was my BFF. You know that quiet girl in class who sort of blended in with the classroom decor? Yeah, that was me. And I say closet artist because I was not that overly artsy kid either. Sure, my fingertips probably had more lead pencil stains than the average teen, but I wasn’t the obvious artsy kid (no green hair or splattered coveralls). And I was terribly insecure about my art.

My journal was another outlet. All through high school, I religiously documented the angst of my life. Somewhere around my freshman/sophomore year the poetry started. Several poems were born, pretty much all free form as I was not one to follow the rules (this caused trouble in art class too, my lack of rules). Rules shmoolz!

I never considered myself a writer, though. In fact, the thought sort of terrified me. At the end of my junior year, my English teacher, Mrs. Eubanks, asked me to apply for the AP English class. I declined and have come to regret that decision. Hindsight is 20/20…

But Mrs. Eubanks was my first nugget of a writing support system. My art support system consisted of family, but I always felt they were too biased for the job. My mother could draw stick figures with the best of them. My grandmother was a phenomenal painter, though I rarely saw her (more 20/20 hindsight stuff).

My early support system was far from huge. And now I understand why. I didn’t share.

Since putting on my first pair of “I’m a writer” panties, I have met so many people who are uber supportive. But that is only because I have learned to get out from behind my notepad and expose myself. Not that way, you goof, now stop. But you have to get your work out there to reap the benefits of a support system. And other writers are a great support system.

The Authoress, over at Miss Snark’s First Victim blog, had a wonderful post on this. And she’s right! I don’t know why writers are so supportive of each other, but they are. Trying to improve your craft? Yup, they will point you to one or two or fifty websites, blogs, books, forums, guides, fairy godmothers that will steer you in the right direction. Need exposure? Yup, they got that baby on lock too! Between book bloggers and Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest, or any other social platform, they help each other get the word out. How many times have you seen a published author feature another author as a ‘guest post’ on their blog/website? Yup, me too!

Point is, I am so very thankful for the folks I’ve met that have been supportive of my budding writer self. My family is great, my non-writer friends back me as best they can, and my crazy (in a fabulous way) Aunt M will wave the flag, light the fireworks, ring the bell, toss the confetti, and sucker-punch anyone who dares to bring me down. I’m only sort of kidding about the sucker-punch part… *wink*

Some of my writerly friends are already in the game, but they still send out words of encouragement. This is huge! Then others are in various stages of their own budding writer selves. Between the different meme’s, critique partners, and random blog posts or referrals, we all sort of band together. Writing contest? Secret Agent submission? Query Kick-a-rounds? Need a beta reader? Yup, we are all there to offer to read, to crit, to suggest, to commend, and to celebrate the victories (big and small) on the meandering road to publication.

I wouldn’t trade any of y’all for anything. Not for all the cookie dough ice cream and peanut butter cups I could eat. It would be tough, but I would abstain in honor of my support system. Cuz that’s how I roll y’all! I can only hope that for all the encouragement, high-fives (virtual and for-really-tho), constructive feedback, ‘go get ‘em, tiger’s you’ve bestowed upon me, that I have managed to do the same for you.

Now let’s go get some ice cream!

Why YA?

Ultimately I came across this article through Shera over at Book Whispers. She introduced me to Joel Stein. I know there has been some…okay…LOTS of buzz over his article regarding adults reading YA. I also know that I am far from the first person to say something about it. As much as I hate to admit it, Mr. Stein got me thinking…

Why do I read YA? Why do I LOVE to read YA?
Stein is right. There’s loads of lit out there geared toward adults like me. So why do I find myself gravitating toward a ‘lower reading level?’
Hi. My name is Deena, and I am a voracious reader of young adult novels, despite being thirty…mumble something grumble…years old.
There. I said it. It’s out in the open. Am I ashamed of being way (and I mean waaaayyy) past my formidable teen years and reading tales staring teens? Nope. Not in the least.
This is what has been bouncing around my head like a pinball machine on crack. The easy answer? Because I like it. Love it even.
Definition of pastime: An activity that occupies one’s spare time pleasantly. (ref)
Some synonyms: entertainment, leisure, hobby, relaxation, recreation, distraction, amusement, diversion. (ref)
Yes, I read YA as a pastime, a hobby. I do it because I enjoy it. It makes me happy. I was not aware I should approach my reading material as if I were preparing my thesis.
Do I feel less educated because I read a ‘tween’ book? No. Do I feel like my IQ dropped because, as Stein puts it, KidLit “doesn’t have the depth of language and character as literature written for people who have stopped physically growing?”
Absolutely not.
I have read “big girl” books and enjoyed them, but I love the potency of YA the most. Anyone who writes for a YA audience knows there is immense competition there. Not just because there are oodles of authors (and more new authors every day), but because the teen audience is a hard one to grab. Traditionally, teens don’t have the attention span for a lengthy novel that takes its time getting to the point. You have to open with a kick to the sternum, grab with a right hook, and keep the them reading with as many groin kicks, uppercuts, and elbows to the solar plexus as possible. There’s no time for dilly-dally in YA Lit.
YA, especially the upper teen side, is also full of ‘first time’ experiences. Everything is ‘more‘ from the perspective of a teen because they’ve never been through it. I liken YA reads to baby rattlesnakes. Did I just lose you? Here, let me explain. A baby rattlesnake doesn’t know how much venom to release that first strike so they often give it their all. Teen experiences are much like this.
That first love was all consuming when it began and soul crushing when it ended because their ‘all‘ was given. That first time behind the wheel of a car often had more acceleration than necessary. That first kiss, that first time sneaking out of the house, that first game after making the team or cheer squad, and that first final passed were all so much bigger and powerful because they were a ‘first’ and, quite possibly, an all encompassing and dramatic event.
As adults, we dim down experiences because we’ve ‘been there/ done that.’ I find adult novels to be sort of the same way. The experiences are somewhat dulled down with familiarity. It doesn’t make them less engaging, really, but they don’t have that punch I like. Not like YA.
The characters in YA are not any less complex than adult novels either. I would venture to say they are more complex because they are written in worlds of ‘firsts.’ They might not be stressing over extra marital affairs, or unpaid bills, or an abusive spouse, but they have issues and stresses that are just as powerful in their world. And because there’s no previous experience to base their feelings on, it is that much more powerful to read.
Maybe I am re-living life vicariously through YA novels. Who cares? With the hum-drum of regular life, sometimes we need that moment to relive, or remember, what it was like to take on something new and scary. It gets the adrenaline pumping and reboots the brain. We may even be able to take that ‘jump with both feet’ attitude and apply it to our very grown up lives.
Am I offended by Mr. Stein’s lack of respect for adults who read YA? That if he were to see me with Hunger Games in my lap, he would think less of me? No. Actually, I feel sorry for the man. He has obviously given up on his inner-child. He has cast aside that which allows us to create, to dream, to inspire: an imagination.
Now I may never get engaged in front of Cinderella’s castle, but I will bounce on my toes in line for Space Mountain. I may not be a huge Justin Bieber fan, but I will crank up the volume when One Direction comes on the radio. Stein says this behavior is embarrassing. Personally, I think it’s more embarrassing to be so obtuse, narrow-minded, and one dimensional.
Yes, I am an adult. I have a full-time job in the ‘big girl’ world that demands me to be professional and precise. I have a mortgage to pay, a small son to raise, and I have paid off my car. I have a degree and half hour commute. I have read Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Robin Cook, and Danielle Steel. But I fell in love with Jeri Smith-Ready, Becca Fitzpatrick, Cassandra Clare, and Jennifer Armentrout.
I am an adult and I love YA Lit. I love its passion, its power, its vigor and ‘roooaaarrrr…I shall overcome’ sort of essence. If Stein thinks this makes me less of an adult, he is entitled to his opinion. It will not make me second guess my next book purchase. If Mr. Stein sat next to me on my next flight to NYC for the SCBWI Conference, and curled a disgusted lip at the latest Mortal Instruments installment in my hand, I would proudly flip him the bird and tell him to “suck it” in the most adult manner possible.

Fun with Avatars

When I got up this morning, I totally had the intention of working on my latest WIP. I didn’t have the opportunity ALL week to work on it and was going through a slight withdrawal. My creative juices were dammed up inside threatening to overwhelm me. It got so bad, I became slightly aggravated with everyone around me. It was weird, like a freak writers PMS thing.

The Kiddo is in the midst of potty training so this morning kind of got shot all to hell for writing. I couldn’t ‘get in the zone’ watching the clock, timing Kiddo’s trips to the potty so we avoided a mess. So after he went down for his nap I figured, “this is it!” Yeah, no. It didn’t happen. Why? ‘Cause I found this website…
But it all works out! I spent all afternoon working on my characters. I tell ya, it was a freakin’ BLAST!!! I highly recommend this to anyone who would like to get a semi-visual on the characters in their head. You know what they look like. You write about them, have done the character sheets, maybe some interviews, and you have this picture in your head. With this trick website I was able to sort of ‘flesh out’ my characters more.
Now, it’s not exact, but it comes pretty darned close. I would have liked more options with hair and colors, but it was still a lot of fun. Since I had so much fun, I thought I would share!
These kids here are the main characters from my WIP Fiáin , Bree and Kennon…
And my new WIP (tentatively titled Gifted) is centered around these cats here, Moira, Finlay and Devlin…
Moira, Devlin and Finlay
The best part of this character journey is really seeing your characters. Playing on FaceYourManga was too much fun and I will definitely keep this in mind the next time I feel like ‘fleshing out.’ It was a great exercise in making those voices in my head just a little more real…
Happy Writing!

Life, Love and Lit

I am such a slacker! Jeez Louise! What is wrong with me? Actually, nothing is really wrong with me, I just get busy with … life. As a full time professional at the day job, and a full time mommy of a two and a half year old, there is little time for much else.

So how does one create balance in Life in order to fit Reading and Writing into it?

Ah yes, the question I would love to be able to answer. But, alas, I have no words of wisdom. I’m still trying to figure it out myself. The day job is important to me because, well, it pays my bills and feeds my family. Kind of important stuff, right? The love of my family is also important to me because my son is at an age where he needs interaction constantly. His little brain is going ludicrous speed and I am doing my best to keep up. (Yes, I totally threw in a Spaceballs reference) Boog’s imagination is so full of awesomeness right now, I hate to lock myself away in a book or writing for fear I might miss something. Never mind the super cute, but sort of pathetically humbling, moments where he sticks his face between mine and the laptop screen and says, “look at ME, mom!”

But I need the moments to myself to do what I love in order to remain sane, or at the very least, likable. Trust me, you don’t wanna be in the same zip code when this chickie here has the cranky pants on. Not pretty. Linda Blair ain’t got nuthin on me. So what do I do? At the moment it’s all about multi-tasking. It is not unusual to find me standing in the kitchen stirring pasta with one hand and have the other hand holding an open book away from the steam. The only problem with this is chicken tends to get a little too done at times. [Insert sheepish shrug]

The same comes with my writing. I am a horrible blogger, this I know. I see other ‘professional’ bloggers who post nonstop and I bow to their mastery. I just can’t do it. If I manage to read, and finish, a book, I will write up my review and post my thoughts. If something comes to mind that I feel needs to be shared with the masses, I will post. Doing it every day, or multiple times a day, just doesn’t happen.

Working on the WIPs falls into this as well. I do my best to find time on the weekends to dedicate even just an hour to writing a new chapter, or editing a chapter, with the WIPs. This usually happens while I have an ear on the washing machine as well. Write a paragraph, pull clothes out of dryer, clothes in washer go to dryer, fill washer, write a paragraph, rinse, repeat.

I have also been known to abuse down time at the day job. Shhhhh… Don’t tell anyone, K? *grin* I keep my updated goodies on a memory stick that travels everywhere with me. OCD? Over protective? Slight problem with control? Um…yeeeaaahhhh. Wee bit. So when there is down time in my day, I will plug the memory stick in, crank up the iPod, and discretely disappear into my imaginary world for a paragraph, or page, or even a full chapter depending on how dull the day is.

So now I ask, is this normal? Do any of you out there suffer from the same time management issues? How do you fit in writing into a busy world of full time demands? Is it possible to be a full time professional, full time mom, AND a full time writer? Or even a part time writer? But then can you still fit in the ever important READING? What tricks have you learned? What is the weirdest place or time you have managed to fit in your passions?