October 31, 2012

Interview with YA Misfit Chessie Zappia

Today, I get to share an interview with YA writer Chessie Zappia, who blogs over at Zap's Lobster Tank about writing and books. Basically, Chessie is kind of the shizz.

The interview topic is antagonists, which is something I love talking about. Hope you guys enjoy her answers as much as I do!

Lori: What do you think is the single-most threatening or terrifying aspect of a memorable villain?

Chessie: Hey, Lori! Thanks for having me. For me, the most threatening/terrifying aspect of my favorite villains is that tiny little detail--something they repeatedly do or say--that is so obviously them. Darth Vader? BREATHING. Dude needs help with that respirator. But when you hear that kwooo-pwahhh you KNOW who it is. And you know the Force is about to crush your esophagus.

Lori: Haha! That's a great detail I've never actually thought about. Who is your favorite book villain and why? And is there a villain you absolutely loathe?

Chessie: It's funny, because my favorite book villain is also the villain I positively loathe.

Dolores. Expletive. Umbridge.

I mean, COME ON. Her name means 'pain'! But what always killed me with her, the very moment I knew I hated her guts when she first said it, was her throat-clearing, sentence-interrupting hem-hem. Voldemort's bad and evil and nasty and all that jazz, but if Umbridge isn't the nastiest pink-wearing cat-loving toad-faced she-devil to ever emerge from a book, I don't know who is.

Lori: AGREE 100% Does your villain have that little detail, that repeated something about them, that might give readers the same reaction they would to Umbridge's 'hem-hem'? And, if it's not too spoilery, what is it?

Chessie: I actually can't think of it, except maybe the phrase that's written across his face and his clothes, which would be a dead giveaway for who he is, if anyone could read the script the phrase is written in. I think, once I actually have the chance to write him as a villain, that detail or trait will come out. I try not to think too hard about the small stuff when I'm in the drafting stage, because then things tend to sound forced. And the last thing you want to do when writing a villain is force things, because if you force something that should be terrifying, it ends up coming off as silly or hilarious instead.

Lori: What's your thought process when crafting a villain?

Chessie: Usually when I'm crafting a villain, the first thing I ask myself is "What do they want?" Every character needs motivation, villains especially. If your villain doesn't have a reason for doing what they do, they won't be nearly as threatening as they could be. Then I wonder what got them to the place they're at, and what shaped their methods. (I also find that the best villains often don't have villainous goals, but rather villainous methods to acheiving neutral goals. That is to say, they chose the Dark Side. [Or were forced to choose it, depending on the story. Oh look, backstory!])

Lori: Do you have a favorite villain among your own stories?

Chessie: Oh, but I do. He's called The Spectator, and a lot of the stuff I've written actually shows you how he got the way he is. He's my favorite (among a lot of the others) because I think he's the best example of a villain who you can sympathize with, knowing everything he's gone through. I also think, at the end of the day, the reader won't really be sure if he was the villain, because A.) his goal isn't villainous, B.) he's fighting against forces stronger than himself, just like any main character, and C.) if they were in his position, would they do things any differently? Could they?

Thanks again for having me! And for everyone else, don't forget to check out the other YA Misfits' posts here.


Chessie is always full of writing wisdom :) As she said, please don't forget to check out the other posts!

Happy Halloween! ♥

October 29, 2012

What Scares You?

This post is basically all about what a giant wuss I am.

But that's no secret. I love Halloween because of the crazy costumes and the decorations and THE CANDY. But even though I was and am a HUGE R.L. Stine fan, and I began writing stories about ghosts and exploding heads when I was in Elementary School, I've never liked SEEING scary things (reading is A-OK though).

Maybe it's something to do with the culture I grew up in--illnesses are attributed to bad spirits which need to be either placated or sent away with complicated ceremonies, ghosts and demons have to be warded off with talismans, funerals are long and drawn-out ceremonies in which a shaman must guide the spirit back to their place of birth so that it's not left to wander. It's a highly superstitious culture, and the ghost stories my mother used to tell me (stories from back in Laos, where apparently bad spirits were really plentiful) sometimes made it difficult to fall asleep at night.

It didn't help that I grew up in a house that was haunted. My mother would see things, and my siblings and I all experienced the usual stuff like moving shadows, footsteps when no one was there, weird noises, etc. I'm still not sure if the house was actually haunted or if it was just really dang creepy. The basement was a place of nightmares--dank, dark, and filled with spiders and centipedes. The stairs were ridiculously steep, and I lost count of how many times someone fell down them. I was terrified of going ANYWHERE in the house once the lights were turned off at night.

We lived there for seven years, but after we moved out, a succession of families moved in and out within the next couple years. One of them was a family my mother knew, and they told her a rather alarming story about locking themselves in one of the bedrooms while someone/thing rattled the doorknob as if trying to get in.

So, possibly as a result of the culture I grew up with and my childhood in a house that STILL provides the setting for all my nightmares TO THIS DAY, I'm never quite sure whether I trust some of the things I've seen because I'm just not sure what's real and what isn't.

Here are a few things that never fail to creep me out:

Child ghosts.

~ My daughter used to get up at night to sleep with me and my husband. When my sister spent the night once, she was awoken by a sound, and when she opened her eyes (she was sleeping on the sofa), she saw my daughter's little figure walking through the living room in the dark. Creepiest thing ever? Possibly :P

~ This one time, I was in my bathroom cleaning up for bed and I heard, quite clearly, a voice whisper, "Mama." Thinking it was my daughter coming over to sleep with us early, I said, "Yes?" When there was no response, I glanced into my bedroom to find it empty. I went to check on her, but she was still asleep in her own bed.

~ My husband was doing something in the front yard around 11 PM for a reason I can't even remember. He had the front door open and through it, he saw what he thought was our daughter standing in front of the dog kennel, talking to the dog. He waved at her. When he came back inside only a minute later and found she wasn't in our bed with me, he went to check on her to find she was still fast asleep curled underneath her blankets.

Dolls, especially old ones.

~ When I was a kid, someone thought it'd be a brilliant idea to manufacture dolls with eyes that followed you. And my mom thought it'd be a brilliant idea to get this doll for me and my sisters. We threw the doll in the porch, and I was forever scared of going into the porch after that.

Reflections in mirrors that aren't really there.

~ Can't even count how many times my eyes have played tricks on me, and I've caught something in the mirror that wasn't there when I turned around. Creepy as heck. Also, driving at night on a dark road (or passing a cemetery), don't tell me you've never been just a tiny bit scared of looking into your rearviw mirror and seeing someone in your backseat.

Anyone/thing that wants to kill me.

Well, it's true >_>; Crazy people. Ghosts. Certain wild animals. This is why I can't watch horror films. EVERYTHING ALWAYS WANTS TO KILL EVERYONE. Although like I said, I think it's just the visual media, b/c I love reading horror stories. Go figure.

Okay, now your turn. What scares you? Any creepy stories to share?

Signing off with a pic of my husband's Halloween costume. He's quite proud.

Happy Halloween! ♥

October 24, 2012


That Time I Joined The Circus by J.J. Howard

Book blurb (from goodreads):
A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake—and facing a terrible tragedy—Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi’s mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn’t there…but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus’s fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi’s ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it’s Lexi’s own future that’s thrown into question...

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, last heartaches, and the importance of an excellent playlist.

Available April 2013

The moment I saw this cover, my face went :O

I love everything about it, from the colors to the typography to the sense of setting. And then I read the blurb, and it sounds so fun and different. This needs to go on everyone's to-read list!

Happy Wednesday, guys ♥

October 22, 2012

On the Value of NaNoWriMo

Last week, I read this post from Farrah Penn, and it got me thinking about what I've taken away from NaNoWriMo about myself and my writing, even though I haven't officially participated since that first time three years ago.

For the first half of 2009, I'd been playing with an idea for a book, but it had been years since I'd written anything other than fanfiction (which I talked about here). Fanfiction was a necessary detour on my writing path, but it was emphatically just a detour, and I needed to get back on the main road, the road I started on when I was a kid using my saved-up dollars to enroll myself in writing programs instead of blowing it at the mall. But my progress was stalled because of the irrational fear that I wouldn't be able to make the transition back into writing my own stories with my own characters.

I thought about it and dithered a lot and then I heard about NaNoWriMo. It sounded insane. 50k words in one month? IMPOSSIBLE. And yet, people did it every year, and it sounded like just the thing I needed to kick my butt into gear and jumpstart the book. So, trepidation high and half-expecting to burn out after the first week, I joined.

Turns out NaNoWriMo is an AMAZING idea and not nearly as crazy as I once thought. I reached the 50k mark around November 20. I did burn out around 57k words, and the book was a phenomenal mess that would need mounds of editing and rewriting, but the fact was I did it. I DID IT. And that small (HUGE) accomplishment forever changed what I thought I was capable of.

What NaNoWriMo taught me about myself:

♥ I am capable of writing 50k or more within a month, regardless of other obligations like funerals, parties, holidays, and weekend trips (all of which happened that particular November).

♥ I can do it again if I put my mind to it. Every first draft I've written since has been completed within a month or less. Editing is something else entirely, but spitting out that first draft isn't something that scares me (much) anymore.

♥ I'm a plotter. My outlines do change, and I keep it flexible, but I have to have an outline.

♥ Writer's block can be overcome. Sure, there are times when the writing feels bland and nothing comes out right, but I write through it anyway. And when I go back to edit, I find they were either not as awful as I remembered or easily reworded for better flow. Editing words already written down is easier than staring at a blank page.

♥ I am horribly competitive. Seeing my fellow NaNo-ers' word counts jump up every day was exactly the motivation I needed to keep writing, to push for a few more hundred words, to keep going even though I'd already reached the day's word count goal.

♥ Even though fanfiction was my greatest teacher, the joy of writing my own story again eclipsed everything else, and I have never looked back.

Are you participating, or have participated, in NaNoWriMo? And did it teach you anything about yourself?

Have an awesome Monday, guys! ♥

October 19, 2012

How do you celebrate Halloween?

My twitter feed has been abuzz lately with people preparing for EPIC HALLOWEEN PARTIES. I don't normally do much to get into the spirit of the holiday (I know, shame on me!), but I LOVE seeing what everyone else has been doing!

Amy Tintera tweeted about how she hosts a fabulous Halloween party every year as well, and she's already begun decorating in preparation:
I don't know about you guys, but if that was watching over my shoulder, I'd cry. (But Amy doesn't b/c she's awesome and not ridiculous like me)

October 17, 2012


City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

Book blurb (from goodreads):
The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.

Available February 5, 2013

This cover, you guys. THIS COVER. *loves* I've been following Miriam's blog since she first got her agent, and I was ecstatic when she announced the book had sold. And now it's got this fabulous cover and an intriguing blurb, and I am so beyond excited to read it.

Happy Wednesday, guys ♥

October 15, 2012

On Queries and Putting Your Best Foot Forward

One of the most common reasons I hear (or rather, read) for why agents pass on a "weak" query is: "If it's weak in the query, it's weak in the manuscript."

Writers groan when they hear this, but I can understand both sides. The quality of a query can oftentimes be a good indicator of a writer's grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. It's also an example of the writer's style and their ability to summarize information--too much back story, not enough conflict or voice. All of this can be true of the manuscript as well.

But not always! When I read the entries for the GUTGAA agent pitch contest, there were a lot of queries that were either too long, too short, repetitive, or didn't present enough information (character, conflict, stakes, what makes it unique). If I was an agent with nothing but the query to go on, I would have passed on them. But then I jumped down to the first 150 words, and they were solidly written with a great voice that drew me in, and I would have definitely kept reading.

Sometimes, no matter how skilled a writer you are, writing a good query is just REALLY FRACKING HARD. And because agents judge whether or not they want to read your book nearly entirely on your query, this can really suck.

Unfortunately, you can't just say 'oh well' and cross your fingers that the agent will request based on the sample pages alone. Well, actually, yes, you can, but do you really want to? It's true that some agents have said they skip right to the pages to see if it draws them in, but even more agents never make it to the sample pages because the query didn't do its job.

When an agent says they pass because they fear weaknesses in the query will reflect weaknesses in the manuscript, it's because they've read a LOT of queries and pages and generally know this to be true. But the thing is, sometimes--a LOT of the times--it's not, and the agent won't know that because they just don't have the time to check every single query.

So while, as a writer, I think query-writing can arguably be a form of torture, the unfortunate fact remains that it doesn't matter whether or not the quality of your query reflects the quality of your manuscript. No matter what, you have to put your best foot forward and prove that your manuscript is worth the read by proving it first in your query.

And yes, again, that's REALLY FRACKING HARD, and no, there's no single right way to do it, but I know you can! You wrote a whole book, after all. That already means you rock.

Good luck! ♥

Today's art: a SUPER OLD sketch--please excuse the anatomy errors
and my utter inability to draw a guitar *wince*

October 12, 2012

The Next Big Thing meme

The name of this meme makes me cringe a bit, but at least it aims big? :P

I was tagged for this WIP survey by the lovely ladies at A Nudge in the Right Direction, and you should totally check out their answers b/c their books sound fab.

What is the working title of your book?
When I start new stories, I tend to just name them after my MC so it was Ven for a while. Now it's Dragonfly, but that'll change because I'm very 'meh' about it.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My stories are usually the result of several ideas mixed into one. For this one, the setting actually came first. I had this city in my head, and I'd been building it bit by bit for months, but I didn't have a story to go with it yet. Then I was listening to Taylor Swift's Back to December (hush, don't judge) and wondered for what reason someone might leave someone they loved without any notice or explanation. Then I thought about how much I love Naruto, a manga about a ninja who carries around an enormous fox demon inside of him, but I didn't want it to be a fantasy so I came at it from a different angle. And then I just mashed everything together.

What genre does your book fall under?
YA science fiction. I think...

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I'm no good at imagining real life people as my characters. And if I tried, it would literally take me weeks.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I suck at these. Basically, it's about a girl who struggles with the monster inside her, and the boy sent to hunt her down.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My agent gave me the thumb's up for the first three chapters, so hopefully she doesn't hate the rest of it lol.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
The first draft took me three weeks. That sounds impressive, but it was pretty much a literary mess.

Here's the opening line: The bustle of the market should have been an easy way to shake someone, but Nine's increasing unease kept the back of Ven's neck burning with awareness.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I've been calling it Cinder meets Naruto. Not sure how that'll hold up since I doubt most editors are familiar with Naruto.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See question two. Plus, I wanted to write something set in the future, but wasn't quite spaceships and intergalactic travel.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There are three princes, a variety of aircrafts, scrap gangs, sky towers, and a murder mystery. I think it's neat.


Now I'm supposed to tag people. Ummmm. Honestly, I think everyone and their mom has been tagged already so I'll just say if you want it, go for it ♥

Have a great weekend!

October 10, 2012

WoW: THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Book blurb (from goodreads):
London, 1894. Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns her father is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations were true.

Juliet is accompanied by the doctor’s handsome young assistant and an enigmatic castaway, who both attract Juliet for very different reasons. They travel to the island only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: he has created animals that have been vivisected to resemble, speak, and behave as humans. Worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape the island, even though her horror is mixed with her own scientific curiosity. As the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Available January 29, 2013

I remember seeing this deal on PM and thinking 'Wow, why didn't I think of that?!' Naturally, I was all up on the cover reveal, which is lovely in a sort of stark and haunting way. And now that we've got the full blurb, I am just dying to read this book.

What do you guys think? :)

Happy Wednesday, guys ♥

October 5, 2012

My dog: the paradox

Thanks to my fab agent sister Abby who linked to this on twitter:

October 3, 2012

WoW: THE ARCHIVED by Victoria Schwab

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Book blurb (from goodreads):
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn't just dangerous—it's a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da's death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

Available January 22, 2013

At first, when I saw the cover, I had a 'meh' reaction. But the more I looked at it and the more I focused on the details, the more I realized this is actually a really AWESOME cover. And kind of beautiful too. And the blurb is just fantastic. I'm so excited for this one!

Happy Wednesday, guys ♥

October 1, 2012

Point of View: Take Two

So I've said that 1st person vs 3rd person is a matter of preference, and not something you should spend too much time stressing over. But have you ever started a WIP and then, at some point between the beginning and end (ideally closer to the beginning), you have the mind-breaking realization that maybe... your story isn't being told from the right point-of-view character?

Usually, when we first visualize a story, it seems perfectly obvious whose story needs to be told. 99.9% of the time, that's your main protagonist. (There are exceptions, notably among the classics, but for simplicity's sake, we'll focus on the narrator as the MC)

But sometimes, as you're writing, the story begins to take shape in an unexpected way. The conflict pulls you in a different direction. Who you thought was your main character suddenly fades in importance while the details seem to shine and fall into place around a different character.

At this point, you have to make a decision. Restructure the story and refocus the conflict on your main character, or rewrite the story from the other character's point of view. Either way, it requires some major manuscript reconstruction.

Something similar (sort of) happened to me while outlining my WIP. Two thirds into the outline, it dawned on me that half of the story action--events that would better serve the book if written out instead of mentioned later on--wasn't happening to my female protagonist. I still needed her point of view because she is the main character and her scenes are all still important, but I realized that she's only half of the narrative.

Fortunately, I didn't have to reconstruct the entire story around a different character, but I'd never written in dual pov before (at least not original fiction). The idea of having to do so was daunting, so it took a while for me to accept that this story needed the point of view of my male protagonist. But once I acknowledged that it needed to be just as much HIS story as HERS, everything came together.

I'm a big fan of stories with multiple points of view, but they really do need to be essential to the story you want to tell. Unless you're G.R.R. Martin.

So have you ever experienced the frustration of writing in the wrong character's point of view? Or experienced something similar? And what are your thoughts on dual/multiple points of view?


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