#READ1040 : Breaking the Ice by Gail Nall

January 31, 2015

4 books down. 6 to go for #READ1040 (read 10 books in 40 days).

Book 4:

Breaking the Ice by Gail Nall

I’ve been excited to read this book for months, ever since I “met” Gail via twitter, during PitchWars. First of all, she has an incredible story that she’s shared on Brenda Drake’s blog. You really should read it.

I absolutely adored this book. It was charming, sweet, wholesome, with just a touch of pre-teen sass. Kaitlin’s journey took me back to my middle school years, with all the adorable and awkward that comes with it. Before I read BREAKING THE ICE, I knew next to nothing about figure skating, but it didn’t take long for me to become wrapped up in Kaitlin’s world of zambonis, skate guards, and double axels.

The story begins with Kaitlin’s less-than-graceful reaction when she learns she’s received embarrassingly low scores after her skating routine. Acting completely out of character, she yells at the judges in front of all the other competitors and their families. Mortified, she’s expelled from her training club, and shipped off to the laughable Fallton club, where she attempts to turn over a new leaf. You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy this book, though it might be a bonus, as Kaitlin’s entire life—as well as her parents’ lives—completely revolve around Kaitlin’s skating. 

Ultimately, this is a story of second chances, redemption, and forgiveness as Kaitlin navigates her world of friendship, first crushes, and what it means to find your own voice and follow your dreams. 

#READ1040 : The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

January 27, 2015

3 books down. 7 to go for #READ1040 (read 10 books in 40 days).

Book 3:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

You guys. This book was amazing. I'm a little embarrassed to say I hadn't read any of Neil Gaiman's books until now. Of course I'd heard of him and his master storytelling skills, but I'd just never gotten around to his books. 

Just... WOW. This book was creepy, surprising, lovable, beautiful... it was near-perfect. I mean--hello, Newberry Medal pasted onto the cover (It won several other awards too, btw). Truly, I don't think I've ever been so creeped out and fascinated by a book's first few pages! 

Take a look at pages 1 and 2 to see what I mean:

      (images taken from Amazon.com) 

If you can't read it, the first line reads: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife."

Hello, creep-tastic?! Right? Okay, so now look at the opening paragraph:

(images taken from Amazon.com) 

So, I was properly endowed with the heebie-geebies at this point. For sure. And it was great. Gaiman's voice is wonderfully descriptive and charming throughout the entire book. The main character, Bod (short for Nobody) Owens, is adorable, and tragic, and fierce all wrapped into one. He was supposed to be killed as a baby, but manages to elude the man Jack, and his bone-handled knife. Bod is then raised by ghosts in a graveyard where he's forbidden to leave, else his family's murderer discover his whereabouts. 

If you need more convincing of this books awesomeness, click here for the 1,100 people who've shared their love for The Graveyard Book on Amazon.com. 

Seriously, y'all. Go read this book.


Slush Pile: Behind the Scenes with Danielle Chiotti

January 26, 2015

Hi y’all, and welcome. I’m very excited to have literary agent Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary join us today! Writer friends, you’ll want to sit up and pay attention as she takes us through a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on when agents are sifting through their query inbox, reading submissions, and, of course… signing a new client!


MR:  Thanks so much for joining us today, Ms. Chiotti! To start us off, what story would you love to see in your inbox right now?

DC: Oh goodness. You know this is the worst question to ask an agent. The story I ALWAYS want to see in my slush pile is the one that gets at a certain truth, one that shows me the world in an entirely new way, one that makes me jump up out of my chair with excitement. I want to see a story that wows me. 


MR:  What is your query-reading process? Do you read them as they come in or do you designate certain times of the day? Do you sort them out, or just plow through all at once?

DC: I receive a lot of queries, and it wouldn't be possible for me to read them as they come in (or I'd never do anything else!). I dedicate one day a week to a HUGE amount of query reading (it's usually Wednesdays), and then dip into the query pile other days of the week when I have the time. I try to read queries in the order in which they come in (oldest to newest). But a funny or interesting title floating around in the box catches my eye from time to time, and I stray from the order.  I also have a fantastic crew of very enthusiastic readers who hang out with me on Query Wednesdays and help me spot the standout projects. 

I have a Query Golden Rule: Never judge a manuscript by its title, query letter, or prologue. I'll explain further: 

Finding a great title is difficult. Just because a novel has an awful title doesn't mean the writing will be awful. So I don't take bad titling too seriously at first, and I certainly don't reject based on a title alone (unless it's not in my categories). 

Some people write great query letters and lousy books. Some people write lousy query letters and great books.  So I don't reject based on bad queries alone (though I would encourage all writers to work on crafting a good query letter, as it is an extremely helpful tool). 

And finally, prologues. Oh, prologues! Writers won't like to hear this, but I don't like prologues. Most of the time they are superfluous, a distraction.  If I judged submissions based on the prologues and without dipping into Chapter One, I would reject most of them! Which is why I tend to skim the prologue and go right to Chapter One, which, 99% of the time, gives a stronger indication of the writing. 

MR:  Roughly how many of your current clients came to you via query?

DC: I currently have about 30 clients, all in various stages of book-making. Fifteen of them came to me via query, and the other half via referral or other strange twists of publishing fate. I love finding authors via query--it's exciting and inspiring to discover great work that way. 


MR:  If you request a manuscript, do you always request a partial first or do you sometimes ask for a full right away (and why?). 
DC: Upstart Crow's submission guidelines allow writers to submit the first 20 pages of their novel with their query. It's a lot of pages, but it allows me to get a strong sense of the writing right away. So when I request a manuscript, it's typically a full. 

MR:  Do you read manuscripts in the order they’re received or in order of what looks most appealing? Do you always read the whole thing or do you stop when you lose interest?

DC: I read requested mss in the order in which I receive them, the exception being if there is a rush or a time limit on a project. I don't always read the whole thing. I read until the story stops pulling me along, and that's different for every manuscript I read. 

MR:  After reading a MS do you know right away that you want to represent that author or is there a certain process you go through to reach that decision?

DC:I usually know by about 75 pages or so if I'm totally in love with a story so by the time I finish the entire manuscript, I'm pretty certain whether or not I want to offer representation. My next step is to speak with the writer on the phone to make sure we're a good personality match, and that their wants and needs as a writer are in line with the way I conduct my business as an agent. And if that all checks out, I offer representation.

New Clients:

MR:  What happens after you sign a new client? What's the next step for that author?

DC:Usually, we do some revision (the amount differs for each client) . So I have a creative back-and-forth with the author, and then we begin the exciting/excruciating submissions process. 

MR:  Most authors only dream about landing an agent. How different is life for an author on "the other side" of signing with an agent? Is there anything a new clients are typically surprised by (both pleasantly and unexpectedly?) 

DC: Even though the process of querying agents is harrowing in its own right, I think what most writers don't take into account is that even after signing with an agent, the process of developing a thick skin, of shouldering rejection and/or disappointment, is still very much ongoing. 

Writing is a business of looking ahead. And learning how to focus and keep writing through bad days (rejection) and  great days (getting an offer!) is the reality of writing for a living. The writing process goes on. Even once you get an agent, it goes on. Even after you get a book deal, it goes on. And even after your first book comes out, it goes on. Looking at your process, learning how you work best, and learning how to keep writing no matter what--that's probably the most important thing a writer can do once they've broken through "to the other side".

For fun:

MR:  Your ultimate vacation: 

DC: There is a little spot on Long Island Sound in Connecticut that is close to my heart. I think of it on the dreariest winter days, and dream of July sunsets. It's not fancy, but it's pretty darn near perfect.  

MR:  If you could be dropped into any story (book, movie, or tv), where would you want to go, and why?

DC: I would want to be dropped into the grandmother's storyline in Ruth Ozeki's A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING, because of the setting (a Japanese temple with a view of the sea!) and the depth of emotion that takes place in that particular part of the narrative. 

MR:  Who's your role-model (literary or otherwise)?

DC: Okay. So this might not be true later today or tomorrow or next year. But I'm currently completely engrossed in watching the entirety of The Gilmore Girls series on Netflix. And at this moment in time, Lorelai Gilmore is my role model. 

MR: Thank you so much, Ms. Chiotti, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to stop by! Best of luck to you and your clients, both current and future! :D

From her agency’s website:

Danielle is actively seeking fresh young adult and middle grade fiction across all genres. She is drawn toward gorgeous writing and strong, flawed characters. Her dream project for young readers is one that challenges and inspires, with a compelling voice that will make her stay up all night reading. Good examples of this are Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
For adult fiction, she is seeking  up-market commercial fiction. She prefers books that explore deep emotional relationships in an interesting or unusual way. Good examples of this are Shine Shine Shine  by Lydia Netzer, The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, and A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.
She is not considering the following adult categories: romance, mystery/suspense/thriller, science fiction, horror, or erotica.
For nonfiction, she is looking for compelling, voice-driven projects that shed a humorous or thought-provoking light on a previously unknown topic in the areas of narrative nonfiction/memoir, lifestyle, relationships, humor, current events, food, wine, and cooking.
If you are looking to query Ms. Chiotti, you may do so via e-mail at danielle.submission (at) gmail (dot) com, using the criteria listed on her agency’s website here .

Also, don’t forget to follow Ms. Chiotti on twitter: @daniellechiotti

Thanks for stopping by, friends. See you soon!

#READ1040 : Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo and The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger

January 25, 2015

Alright, peeps, I’ve finished my first 2 books for #READ1040 (read 10 books in 40 days) with 8 books and 34 days to go...

First up, Book 1:

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha Trilogy #3) by Leigh Bardugo

I was excited to read this one, as I really enjoyed the first two books in the series. I wanted to dub this books as a beautiful blend of fantasy, adventure, and romance… until I saw Rick Riordan already did. On the back cover. O.O

I loved this book. It’s dark and haunting, particularly the Darkling. I could practically feel his hold on Alina. And yet there was much humor and beauty too. Plus cool The world was rich, the characters were vivid. Everything from compassionate to snarky, and everything in between. Nikolai was my favorite—though he’s surely everyone’s favorite, I’d imagined. :-) The love triangle here is extremely complicated, definitely not your typical lovers’ dilemma.

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot, but I will say, I was satisfied with how Bardugo wrapped things up, though I’m definitely sad it’s over.

This book is absolutely worth a read, though I’d recommend starting with book one, Shadow and Bone.

Alina’s story will seep into you like water into soil, completely taking hold of your imagination. It will stay with you, long after the last page is read.
Seriously. Go get your copy of Ruin and Rising now (or Shadow and Bone, if you’re new to the series) if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.

Book 2:

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger

Okay. To be fair, this is not my typical read. Constant angsty teen drama just isn’t my thing. But I’d seen this book a lot on twitter recently, and I know the movie is coming out, so I wanted to give it a try. And I thought the whole premise of girls who are DUFFs was kind of funny.

I will say: I can see how some people would connect to this book—I just wasn’t one of them. With its focus on Bianca (the MC)’s use of sex as an emotional escape and Bianca’s super cynical look at the world, I had a hard time connecting to her. There was a lot of family drama circling around Bianca, as well as Wesley, her “friend with benefits.” And I think the drama helped to round out the characters nicely. With everything going on, it was mostly believable that Bianca would throw everything out the window—grades, friends, family—and fall into an incredibly unhealthy physical relationship with Wesley.

Also, the ending seemed a bit rushed.

Again, I can totally see how there’s an audience for this book—primarily teen girls—but I’m too far out of the indented market audience. :) I would be hesitant to recommend this book to certain people, with its sex scenes and profanity (f**k is one of Bianca’s go-to words).  But if you’re looking for some steamy high school romance, sprinkled with snark and sorrow… then this might be your book. 

Twitter Round Up

January 24, 2015

Hello, weekend! Here are a few of my twitter favorites from this past week:

(You can follow me on twitter here)

For my Whovian friends:

Writers, be inspired:
24 Quotes That Will Inspire You To Write More bzfd.it/1y4vHdr via @buzzfeed pic.twitter.com/P06mENLX7R

Because... awesome.

Draco Malfoy has a secret:

Great article! 
It's never too late to write that book! Here's proof: bitly.com/1won7kH

 Yes. This. 

 This is a MUST for writers:

Thanks, Mel, for the share. :)

How AMAZING does this sound!?

And my absolute favorite:

You'll definitely want to follow @i_am_otter on twitter here  (he's adorable!)

So those were just a few of my favorites. 

What about you? Any informative, inspirational, or funny tweets you'd be willing to share with us?

#Read1040 : My New Reading Challenge

January 22, 2015


** peeks head out from under a rock**

No, really.


I haven’t posted a blog in… well… erm, I’ll let you look at the last post and figure it out. :-D
Because it’s embarrassing.

It’s kind of like calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. You were supposed to call them months ago, but… stuff happened, then more stuff, then it’s been two months, and you feel so bad/awkward/embarrassed that you’re almost afraid to ever call them again.

But then you do call. And you are SO GLAD you did because it was SO GREAT to finally chat with them and catch up.

That’s what this feels like.

But I’m back! And I’d like to make my blog more of a priority this year.

Also, I’ve decided to take on a new challenge that I want to share with you.

I’m into my second month of querying agents, and my brain is basically going to explode (more on this later). I have three WIPs going on at once, and I can’t seem to focus on any of them. So I thought instead of beating my head against the keyboard, trying to write THREE BOOKS AT ONCE (I haz problems) maybe I should take a break, and focus my energy on reading.

I went to the library today to pick up a book I had on hold. And I left the library with six more books (I’m not the only one this happens to, right?).

It got me thinking. What if I REALLY dove into reading? Devoted my time to enjoying the hard work of other authors instead of trying to write ALL THE BOOKS AT ONCE. So I decided to make a lofty goal of it. Well, lofty for me.

There are exactly 40 days until the end of February (um, or at least there were when I started this challenge a few days ago). I’d like to read 10 books in 40 days. Perhaps this isn’t so lofty for some of you, but I usually read 2-3 books a month, so this is a push for me, as I’ll need to read 2-3 books a week to stay on top of my goal.

I spent so much time last year focusing on my writing (which was a lot of fun!), that the TBR books on my shelf just kept accumulating like rabbits. No, really, my TBR shelf is ridiculously overflowing.
So, I’m going to give my brain a break and… READ.

I’d love for you to join me.  I’m going to use the twitter hashtag #Read1040 (10 books in 40 days), which is totally nerdy of me, creating my own hashtag. But I’m doing it anyway.

I like nerdy.

My goal is to post a little review after each book. Hopefully this will keep me committed to visiting my own blog on a regular basis. J

I’d love for you to join me!

How about you?

Do you ever set reading goals? How many books do you typically read on a weekly/monthly basis?