Book Review: THE LIVING by Matt de la Peña

Photo credit: Goodreads
So this was a really fun read. 

I do happen to love my YA full of action and intensity and The Living definitely met those expectations. But before I go on, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“Shy took the summer job to make some money. In a few months on a luxury cruise liner, he'll rake in the tips and be able to help his mom and sister out with the bills. And how bad can it be? Bikinis, free food, maybe even a girl or two—every cruise has different passengers, after all. 
But everything changes when the Big One hits. Shy's only weeks out at sea when an earthquake more massive than ever before recorded hits California, and his life is forever changed. 
The earthquake is only the first disaster. Suddenly it's a fight to survive for those left living.” 
So, yeah, this was pretty much as intense as it sounds. I’ve heard people say this is like a YA Lost without the smoke monster weirdness, and it definitely has that vibe, though I think it reminded me more of I Shouldn’t Be Alive for YA. Either way, The Living is a super interesting read.

Something I appreciated was the incidental diversity. Shy is (half?) Mexican American and many of the important side characters have diverse racial backgrounds, which was really nice to see. And while there are absolutely some themes of race and class coming into play, The Living doesn’t read as an issue book (and it’s not supposed to), and overall, I think it was very nicely handled.

I will say that the ending was kind of predictable and the confrontation between Shy and a particular baddie was, shall we say, a teensie bit evil bad guy Hollywood cliché? Also, there was a thing with super aggressive sharks that I wasn’t totally buying, but the issues were minor and I still definitely enjoyed reading. Now The Hunted just has to come out so I can find out what happens. *frets*

I’m giving The Living 4/5 stars and I recommend it to those who enjoy fast-paced, Adventure/Disaster-type books.

Have you read anything good lately? I’m always open to recommendations (especially YA & NA)! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to THE LIVING by Matt de la Peña. Have you read this intense YA Adventure? (Click to tweet)   
Looking for a fast-paced, intense YA read with high stakes and a diverse cast? Try THE LIVING by @mattdelapena. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Top 5 NaNoWriMo Tips

NaNoWriMo starts THIS WEEKEND. And so in today's vlog I'm sharing my top five NaNoing (or general fast-drafting) tips.

Twitter-sized bite: 
Getting ready for #NaNoWriMo? @Ava_Jae shares 5 tips to help you reach your NaNo goal. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #5

Photo credit: zappowbang on Flickr
So as these things go, I’m going to start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I’ll share some overall thoughts, then my redline critique. As I’ve said before, I super encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (after all, I’m only one person with one opinion!), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be removed.

Okay! Let’s do this thing.

Title: ON THE MIDNIGHT STREETS

Category/Genre: YA Steampunk

Excerpt:

“The envelope in my hand has corners sharp enough to cut me, and for a long moment, I trick myself into thinking it will if I hold it for too long. The clock on our wall ticks one, two, twenty-two times, calmly enough that I can let it time my inhales. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me - the messenger who passed it to me through a chink in our doorframe was dressed in livery finer than anyone in these parts has seen in decades. But stranger still was his expression, so guardedly incredulous that the memory of it makes me afraid of the letter he’s brought me. 
Strained light coming through the boardinghouse window just barely lets me notice the creamy sheen of the parchment and Mother’s name, printed primly on one side in a hand I don’t recognize. That is what catches me, the unfamiliarity of the writing. For years I’ve been taking Mother’s post in the mornings, but never this early, and never from anyone I haven’t known all my life. My heart shrinks as I stare at the address, undeniably ours, right down to the boardinghouse room. Bone-deep foreboding turns my fingers to stone. 
It’s a letter, Chantilly. The worst it can do is nick your fingers. 
It’s far too smooth to be anything less than Upper City material, so thick that it sets me on edge. I turn it over to break the seal when I see it: the emblem of the king and crown, Clarabel’s dagger overrun by thistles.”

Interesting start! I’m really liking some of the details here, like the thick paper and the clock, which starts us off with some nice imagery. The main thing I’m noticing writing-wise is there’s some wordiness, which I’ll address in the in-line notes below. As for the pacing and plot thus far, I’m wondering if maybe we’ve got a little too much focus on the circumstances of the letter on the first page. This is a bit hard for me to judge without seeing more, but I’m thinking I would’ve liked to see Chantily start reading the letter on the first page rather than staring at it the whole time.

That being said, I often see openings that start too early in the story, but I wonder if this starts a little too late? You mention a stranger delivering the letter, and as you’ll see below, I think if you maybe start there and show us that interaction, it could be a really interesting opening immediately full of tension and foreboding. Overall, though, I think this is well done.

Now the in-line notes:

“The envelope in my hand has corners sharp enough to cut me, and for a long moment, I trick myself into thinking it will if I hold it for too long. You say “long” twice in this sentence, so it’s an easy cut, here. The clock on our wall ticks one, two, twenty-two times, calmly enough that I can let it times my inhales. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me – (This phrase here seems unnecessary to me) the messenger who passed it to me through a chink in our doorframe was dressed in livery finer than anyone in these parts has seen in decades. Where is “these parts”? This is a super easy fix—just give us the name of the place and that one little detail will add to the worldbuilding. But stranger still was his expression, so guardedly incredulous that the memory of remembering it makes me afraid of the letter he’s brought me. I wonder…could you show us this scene? I feel like this would be a really interesting, tension-filled moment and could make a really great opening. Just a thought. Also, rather than telling us about her fear (“it makes me afraid”), show us how that fear is affecting her. It’s much more effective. 
Strained light coming through the boardinghouse window just barely lets me notice the creamy sheen of the parchment and Mother’s name, printed primly on one side in a hand I don’t recognize. What is the light strained through? Slatted boards? Paint? Grime on the window? This would be a nice detail to have. That is what catches me, the unfamiliarity of the writing catches me. For years I’ve been taking Mother’s post in the mornings, but never this early, and never from anyone I haven’t known all my life. My heart shrinks as I stare at the address, undeniably ours, right down to the boardinghouse room. Bone-deep foreboding turns my fingers to stone. 
It’s a letter, Chantilly. The worst it can do is nick your fingers. I really like this line. It shows us Chantily’s nervousness and starts to characterize her. Very nice. 
It’s far too smooth to be anything less than Upper City material, so thick that it sets me on edge. We already know she’s on edge. Can you replace this with something else? Also, the first part of this sentence has some really nice details. I turn it over to break the seal when I see it: the emblem of the king and crown,: Clarabel’s dagger overrun by thistles.”

As I’ve said before, I think this is a great start, and with a little adjusting it could be even more powerful. If I saw this in the slush, I’d probably continue reading, and I’d be cautiously optimistic.

In the end, remember it’s totally up to you what changes you do or don’t want to make (after all, it’s your story!). But these are my recommendations and I hope they help.

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Christine!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks about wordiness and deciding what's in-scene in the 5th Fixing the First Page crit. (Click to tweet)

Some Thoughts on #AuthorYes

Photo credit: torbakhopper he dead on Flickr
So, as I’m sure most of you are well aware, the publishing industry had a bit of a social media blow up this past weekend and earlier this week.

I will openly admit that I haven’t read the full article that started it all, mostly because as I skimmed through it, I started getting a little nervous that reading a post about how an author stalked a reviewer to the point of confrontation might trigger some anxiety issues. So I skimmed the article and watched people’s reactions online.

A few days passed and the conversation continued. The hashtag #HaleNo cropped up and one of my lovely Twitter friends said this:


That tweet kind of stayed with me throughout the day as the hashtag began to pick up steam. And I thought about what I wanted to say, because I felt like I should say something about the whole situation, seeing how I’m someone very much involved in the publishing industry and the whole stalking thing really bothered me, but I wasn’t really sure where to start or if I should even say anything at all.

Then I remembered how during the whole you should be ashamed to read YA explosion, the YA community really came together and started their own positive hashtags supporting YA, and saying why they were proud to read YA, and turning a nasty, negative situation into a really positive and wonderful one.

And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if someone did that with this situation?

And I realized that’s what I wanted to say. I wanted to change the conversation to something positive, even if it was just within my feed.

So I tweeted this:


And I started nominating writers I really admire, like Beth Revis, and Tahereh Mafi, and Leigh Bardugo, and Corinne Duyvis. And I asked other people to join along.

I thought it’d be pretty cool if a few people jumped in and it’d be really nice if for just a little while, we supported each other and highlighted the really wonderful community we have. I thought it’d be great to bring attention to some authors who deserve it rather than focusing on negativity.

And you know? It happened. Except basically 2,000 times bigger than I expected.

The hashtag exploded, and I know I’m biased and all, having started it, but it has to be one of my favorite Twitter trends ever because the people there? SO OVERWHELMINGLY WONDERFUL. Seeing so many people speak out to bring attention to authors who have helped them, who they admire, who they see as positive influences or just write plain awesome books has been incredible. The whole thing makes me so happy and I might be a little addicted to the positivity in there because it really really is so genuinely amazing.

So I just want to thank everyone. Because the whole thing has been an incredible reminder of how wonderful the writing community is, and it absolutely would not have been the same without your participation.

So thank you. You’re awesome. Virtual hugs for you all.

Fixing the First Page Feature #5 Giveaway Winner!

Photo credit: jessica.diamond on Flickr
Quick off-schedule Thursday post to announce the winner of the fourth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Are you ready?

The winner is…

CHRISTINA I.

Woohoo! Congratulations, Christina! Expect to see an e-mail from me very shortly. 

Thanks to all who entered! I'll have more of these (and possibly something super special next month? hmmm), so keep an eye out! :)

Writing Excellent Villains Round-Up

Photo credit: Annoying Noises on Flickr
So Halloween is next week, and so is NaNoWriMo, which means now is the perfect time to talk about villains. Right? Right. 

But first, story time. 

Once upon a time, baby writer Ava thought that in order for villains to be truly villainous, they had to be super 666% evil with metaphorical twirling mustaches and maniacal laughing fits that they practiced in their (evil) mirrors. She was convinced that the best bad guys were just that—super dripping-with-evil bad. 

She was wrong. By a lot, really. 

As it turns out, I’ve found that some of the most interesting characters, whether antagonist or protagonists, aren’t completely good or completely evil—they’re gray characters. And so I wrote a post on writing gray characters

It’s also important, when developing and writing your characters, especially if you want them to feel “real,” is to figure out what they want and what their motivation is—something, I think, that’s especially important for protagonists and antagonists. It also helps to know what your characters are afraid of, because yes, even your villain has fears, too. (Or at least they should). 

Finally, I’ve learned along the way that if you don’t love your villain, chances are your readers won’t love him (or even remotely like him), either. 

Also, for fun, here are my top five favorite villains.

Now go forth and write excellent villains! 

What tips do you have for writing great villains? 

Twitter-sized bites:
In preparation for #NaNoWriMo & Halloween, @Ava_Jae shares helpful links for getting your villains right. (Click to tweet)  
Brainstorming your antagonist for an upcoming WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares helpful links on writing villains. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: From Contest to Book Deal

It's Tuesday vlog time! And today I'm sharing the quick version of my journey from being a runner up in a blog contest to getting a book deal. Woot! :D


Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about her journey from blog contest to YA book deal! (Click to tweet)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...