…And her nose stuck in a book

The other night after a (very) happy hour and dinner with my husband, we stopped at our local bookstore so I could run my fingers over spines and stare, starry-eyed, at all the lovely stories I’ve yet to read, and imagine *one day* my book joining them. They had a bunch of signed copies of several books by authors I love, so I decided to buy one (because it’s the next best thing to having it autographed for me, personally). My husband held it for me as I continued to drift around, admiring the beautiful journals and St. Louis-themed children’s books, until next thing I knew, he’d bought it for me.

This seems silly writing it out, because we’re married and what’s his is mine and vice versa (he even said that as he was paying), but there’s something so magical about being gifted a book, even if it’s paid for with the same account that my money goes into. I hugged the book to my chest the entire walk home. Naturally (because, St. Louis), someone sitting outside eating ice cream spotted me carrying my new book like a precious baby and asked what book it was, so I got to make a new friend (read: admit to a stranger I had almost no idea what the book was about but it’s signed by Ally Condie and the MC’s last name is the same as my #1 fiction love’s, so I figured I’d give it a chance, and it might be about pirates?). That’s around the time I *noticed* I was still carrying the book like I was Belle from the beginning of Beauty and the Beast which of course prompted me to sing the line “and her nose stuck in a book” all the way home no matter how many times my husband sarcastically complimented my excellent singing.

In case you’re curious, the book I purchased is The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie. She wrote the Matched series, as well as an interesting, quasi-mermaid tale Atlantia that was really good.

Exciting News!

I’ve launched my writing website! 🙂 I started it as a blog a while ago when I was *very* excited about a *very* different story, but didn’t do much with it and turned my (admittedly sporadic) attention here instead. I’m hoping to be much better at keeping up the writing site with regular postings (I’m aiming for once a week, we’ll see how it goes) and plan to shift this site away from documenting writing-related updates (since I need *something* for that other site 😉 ). That being said, my first big “share” on the site is a piece of flash fiction from the world of Blood and Water, the book I’ve been working on all year. It’s set well before the actual story takes place, but gives a glimpse into my main character (Solvi)’s childhood.

If you feel like checking it out, it’ll drop *today* at annieatkinstories.com. I plan to share a few more “side stories” to drum up some interest, so if you do check them out, please be sure to leave a comment letting me know what you think–good or bad! I’m very curious to see if the story works without knowing any of the characters yet…everyone who’s read them so far already knows the characters almost as well as I do. 🙂 I’ll also share things like more writing playlists, and I’m sure I’ll have a few more random thoughts on writing to share as well.

Rambling Recommendations: The Paper Magician Series

I am OBSESSED with these stories! I got The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (the first installment) to check out for free through Amazon Prime Reading, and I just fell in love with Ceony and Emery.

I wasn’t sure at first–fairly early on, Ceony goes off on an adventure (seemingly) far from the magician she’s apprenticing for (the adorable and charming Emery Thane–a pairing I was already shipping HARD) so my interest waned slightly. But, guys, there’s still a pretty great love story woven into her battle for Emery’s literal heart, one that I think is sustained really well throughout the three books. Full disclosure, there’s a fourth book in the series but I haven’t read it…yet.

The summary, for those who need more: in this world, magicians are bonded to a certain material that they’re able to manipulate (paper, plastic, metal, glass, rubber…). Ceony is assigned to a paper magician despite her desire to become a Smelter (one who works with metal). She grudgingly learns all the weird lessons Emery assigns her, until a woman breaks into his home and steals his literal heart (she’s evil/bonded to flesh, so *mom disclosure* there is some fighting involving tossing vials of blood around, but it never really struck me as graphic/gruesome, so I think even the more squeamish will be ok). Ceony creates a paper placeholder heart and chases her down, determined to save her mentor’s life.

Also, there’s an adorable paper dog who just melts my heart. The whole thing is so imaginative and delightful. It’s a fast read; I read through all three books in about a week (granted, I was on vacation for some of that time, but we were exploring Louisville so my reading time wasn’t *so* extended). I highly recommend this series for anyone looking for a fun, easy read that will still linger in your mind long after you’ve set it down!

My First 10 Books Read in 2019

Well, I’m a quarter of the way to completing my goal of reading 40 new books this year. I’m trying to expand my reading palette from the usual YA fiction I prefer, and I think my list so far reflects that I’ve at least dipped my toe in other waters. I’ve found a few real gems, a couple felt more like a trudge-through in parts, but my world has expanded regardless.

Without further ado, here are the first 10 books I read this year:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Griffin McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

If I *have* to pick one, I’d say Grace and Fury is probably my favorite of those first ten books. Stay tuned for a full blog post about it. Wildcard was also incredibly satisfying–Marie Lu is one of my favorite authors, her stories never fail to fully engage me. I’d recommend checking out the first book in that series: Warcross before moving on to Wildcard, but definitely another excellent duology.

Rambling Recommendations: Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne was the 5th book I finished this year (because OF COURSE I’m counting) and it was such a delight.

It takes my favorite classic: Jane Eyre, teases out all the modern-day young-adult themes I know and love, and plops the storyline on a futuristic space ship orbiting Earth.

Stella, our main character, is a delightful young woman who is both bold and understands her “place” in terms of social structure. I could relate whole-heartedly to her, preferring to keep to her quarters and read or draw rather than socialize with her peers, getting brazen only under the influence of a few strong drinks, or once she’s comfortable. Hugo, the love interest (yes, that’s the role I’m designating for him–I suppose he could be a quasi-antagonist much like the Mr. Rochester he’s based upon), is mysterious and broody, maybe more handsome than the original but I let that slide. Personally, I liked the mysterious Mr. Rochester being so much older (maybe it’s my thing for Bruce Willis making age gaps feel so irrelevant), and so was a touch disappointed Hugo was around Stella’s age–but then I figured it’s way less ok for a 17-year-old to start a love affair with her older employer in this day and age than it might have been in Charlotte Brontë’s time.

I loved that this story had that comforting familiarity of a well-loved story, yet enough new twists/plot points to keep things fresh. More than once I found myself thinking “well Jane Eyre went this direction, but there’s no way for that to happen here” or “how will she handle X if Y is so different in this version?” so nothing felt stale.

If you like SciFi YA (that’s science fiction young adult, mom), hundo p–this book is for you. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I’d also highly recommend this novel.

I Guess it’s Time to Talk About Nanowrimo

It’s been long enough. First off, I completely get why people do it. It makes sense that taking a month to discipline yourself into carving out chunks of time to write, a time when so many people around the world are also writing, encouraging you on, all of that goodness would help a person get 50,000 words onto a page.

I’m very competitive. I do not like to lose. As soon as I start to feel like I’m losing, I hate whatever game I’m playing and just want to quit.

I’m also not a quitter. It makes for a really uncomfortable experience when part of me wants to pout and storm off and the other part is like nah we gotta at least finish this bitch.  Add to that the desire to be more forgiving and loving towards myself and you get a hot freaking mess come mid-November.

I think I got around 20,000 words written, which is no small thing. But unlike last summer, when I was churning out several thousand words a day, my heart wasn’t in it. My head was barely in it–more focused on word count and “sprints” and the desire to edit my current story rather than start working on the sequel. Plus my husband was around, which makes it so hard.

That’s the best problem to have as a writer/human being, though. I have someone in my life whose very presence makes it hard to focus on other things. Even if he’s in the other room working on schoolwork or watching TV, a part of me just wants to be beside him, and feels like any moment I’m not is ultimately squandered. That also makes it difficult to pursue my writing sometimes, which is frustrating and makes me angry with him for making me love him so damn much. There was a lot of moodiness in November that only added to the misery of failing at Nanowrimo wordcounts and falling behind in working on my current novel.

So, for me, it was a very good lesson learned: National Novel Writing Month is not a thing I’ll participate in again, at least not in the near future.

Happy Halloween

Tonight is October 31st which means all the ghouls and goblins and slutty cheerleaders will be out and about.

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I must confess, Halloween is not my holiday. Maybe I’m bitter because my birthday is so close to Halloween, it’s always overshadowed by costume parties. I’m more looking forward to the discounted candy tomorrow.

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Also, NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and this year, I’m competing participating. Since joining Scribophile I’ve made a bunch of new writing buddies, some of whom have encouraged me to give National Novel Writing Month a try. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a month dedicated to completing a novel! The goal is 50,000 words in one month, which is roughly 1,667 words/day. EEK.

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I’ll be using this time to dive into the sequel to my current WIP. I’m trying very hard not to get too competitive with it–there is, after all, a LOT going on in November apart from writing, but I do want to give it my best shot. I anticipate sneaking in quite a bit of writing at work (sh!) and a lot of evenings spent ignoring my husband…

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If-slash-when I survive it, I will be sure to hop on here and tell you all about it. Meanwhile, I’ll try to schedule another post or two this month today, so I don’t drop completely off the face of the blogging-planet!

Oh, and:

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Rambling Review: A Study in Charlotte

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first in an amazing, 4-book series. I am 100% obsessed.

This story begins when Jamie Watson, the however-many-greats-grandson of Dr. John Watson, ends up at a boarding school with Charlotte Holmes (the however-many-greats-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, keep up). The way Cavallaro has entwined the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (famed biographer in this world) into the plot and explained the generations of Holmeses and Watsons since is captivating. Jamie is such a lovable character, and (his) Holmes is intoxicating in her mysteriousness as well as her prickly vulnerability.

There are some more “adult” themes that (if memory serves) are only slightly touched on in the original Sherlock Holmes series (i.e. drug abuse), so just a brief note of caution, a “trigger warning,” if you will: this story does deal with such things as the trauma after a sexual assault and teen drug use (it also has some swearing, Mom). On the whole, I think the subject matter is very well-managed and real without being coarse or insensitive.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, right now A Study in Charlotte is free on Prime Reading, so you can dip your toes into this series without the commitment of purchasing the book — but I am confident you will end up devouring it and immediately stocking your library shelf with the next two books (book 4 comes out in March 2019). This is honestly such a well-written and enjoyable series — I would go so far as to say it is one of my favorites.

All First Drafts are Shit

Ernest Hemingway said “the first draft of anything is shit”. And I’m not starting any nerdy lit wars, but he’s kind of a big deal. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to writing, at least.

This has been my mantra while writing my current novel — which I feel comfortable calling a novel rather than just a work-in-progress (even though it is) because I freaking FINISHED A FIRST DRAFT EVERYONE.

This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me when I tell you this is huge. Approximately 50,000 words relating to the same story with a beginning, middle and end. Chock-full of shoddy writing and more than a few space-saving brackets where things need to be fleshed out. But DONE.

The key was figuring out how to turn off my editor-brain, because that’s what’s always hung me up before. To do this, once I finished writing for the day, I was done with that section. I could not reread it or tweak it anymore. I created a section for notes each day, where I would put ideas for changes, things to research, etc, so when I go back to do my first round of edits (which I am so excited for it’s almost embarrassing), I’ll be able to see if the changes fit and remember what else I might be able to add.

Like I said, at some points I put in brackets — a lot of points, actually. Almost every minor character in my book is currently known simply as [X], because I’ll need to research typical names and did not want to get sucked down a research rabbit hole. I left some really shitty lines like “we all fight a lot and people die right and left” because I will need to watch videos and read articles to accurately depict battle scenes, but also needed to move the narrative of the first draft along.

But the point is, it is done and I am floating on a high like I have not known before.

And now I may be able to return some focus to this blog, which I really do love.

Writing and Stuff

I’ve been writing a lot lately, which is really great except that pretty much all my creative juices are going into my story and I have nothing left over for this blog. That makes me feel guilty, because this blog is a commitment to myself as much as it is entertainment for my readers, so I’m sorry for being a little more absent lately. It’s for a good cause.

I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and it was really freaking good. So many of the chapters resonated with me, but the part that stuck with me the most was about how easily we tend to flake on ourselves. I really hate the idea of being seen as flaky — I used to have a problem saying no, then feeling really bad when I had to cancel last minute. Now, I’ve learned to only agree to things I’m confident I can see through, and to be honest with myself and my friends if I can’t manage something, whether physically or mentally. Still, when it comes to making commitments to myself, I flake all the time. It’s as if I don’t matter to myself as much as literally anyone else — and that’s something else I’m becoming more aware of. I need to value myself and my time.

Another thing she said — which I’ve written out and taped to the ceiling over my bed — is that no one else has power over your dreams. Only you can decide to give up. And, in case her readers still need to hear it from someone else, Rachel says “You do not have permission to give up on your dreams!”

Writing is hard and exhausting and exhilarating. This time, when I sat down, I looked at why I keep giving up sporadically. I am 100% an editor-writer. I struggle with getting a first full draft written because I constantly reread what I’ve already written and tweak and change and start again. This time, I refused to do that.

This time, I start writing around where I left off the day before. If I don’t remember for sure where that is, I’ll jot a brief summary of what I think that last scene was before jumping in. If I can’t think of a name or term, I write (X) and keep moving. If I can’t think of anything amazing, I will write what literally needs to happen.

He says something else that makes me laugh, and I feel a little better.

When I *finally* get to turn my editor brain on (draft 2, and not before), I will have so much fun re-imagining the scene over and over until I know exactly what he says that makes the character laugh, and I’ll be able to show her feeling better about their situation. For now, I’m writing a first draft full of placeholders.

It’s the only way I know how to get to the end of a fully formed book. In the past, I’ve left bullet points or synopses before moving on, but to me, that doesn’t count as finished. This way, the story may be full of shoddy writing, but it will be a fully formed story nonetheless.

So that’s what I’m up to. I’ll try to get a few more posts in here and there, but for the most part, I’m committing to the characters I’ve been following around for almost five years now. I owe it to them — to me — to get a full version of their story on paper.