Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: Growing up Greek

So, yesterday, I'm chewing on this idea about a kid whose last name is never pronounced correctly. Little did I expect for an entire character to spin into existence. He and I have had the conversation that he's just going to have to wait until some other projects are finished, but he insisted on being introduced. After hours of him yelling in the back of my head, I agreed.

Everyone, meet Nikolas Biggi.

“Nikolas Bi—Big…” the teacher stumbled over the letters as she tried to call roll.

BG! I thought to myself. The letter B. And the letter G. Why was it so hard?

“Biggi,” I said, giving her a two-fingered salute. 

Biggi. What a last name. A final “up yours” from my dad before he walked out on my mom and me when I was nine and ran off with Sue Ellen, the bleach-blonde waitress from the Tasty-Freeze. Apparently, she really knew how to dip a cone…

The last time I heard from my dad was two months after my 14th birthday. He sent me a shaving kit and a soccer ball which was the only thing in my life he’d ever gotten right. I had more body hair than any kid south of Jersey. I liked to think of it as proof positive when it came to nature’s cruel sense of humor.

My dad was also kind enough to scar my genes with a perpetually-tangled mop of curly hair that looked more like it belonged to Doc from Back to the Future than a kid living in rural Georgia, a set of eyebrows that would put Groucho Marx to shame, and the ability to say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong moment.

Comparatively, if Joe Jonas and Adrian Grenier had a love child, it was me … I had the guybrows to prove it.

Nikolas was a nod from my mother whose parents immigrated to the States from Greece via beer cooler through Cuba. I had her freaky-blue eyes, inability to understand algebra, and tendency to mismanage time. And at the age of twelve, I could grow a full-blown beard which, oddly enough, was also a trait inherited from her.

As if my life didn’t scream socially well-adjusted, when I was thirteen, my YaYa with her gnarly arthritis and malfunctioning hearing-aid begrudgingly joined our American household. She could say about two words in English, both of which got me smacked when I repeated them at mass the following Sunday. The language barrier sucked most days … well, except the time she tried to inform me about puberty. At least, I think that’s what she was talking about. There was a lot of questionable gesturing and foreboding pointing going on. We haven’t really made eye contact since that day.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: MYSTIC CITY by Theo Lawrence

Aria Rose, youngest scion of one of Mystic City's two ruling rival families, finds herself betrothed to Thomas Foster, the son of her parents' sworn enemies. The union of the two will end the generations-long political feud—and unite all those living in the Aeries, the privileged upper reaches of the city, against the banished mystics who dwell below in the Depths. But Aria doesn't remember falling in love with Thomas; in fact, she wakes one day with huge gaps in her memory. And she can't conceive why her parents would have agreed to unite with the Fosters in the first place. Only when Aria meets Hunter, a gorgeous rebel mystic from the Depths, does she start to have glimmers of recollection—and to understand that he holds the key to unlocking her past. The choices she makes can save or doom the city—including herself. 

So I totally lucked out and snagged an ARC of MYSTIC CITY at Half-Price Books. My review is for the ARC since I don't know what (if any) changes might've been made. Here we go!

The Good: I absolutely can't praise Theo's writing style enough! Can we say beautiful and the perfect example of Show don't Tell and Avoid Passive Voice. The descriptions are stunning. Each scene is brilliantly set and fully fleshed out. The characters are so unique, and you can totally connect with them in a real way. I'm generally not a dystopian fan, but MYSTIC CITY isn't the typical dystopian... at least, it isn't the struggle-every-moment-for-life kind. It's more futuristic than anything. I'm not sure what genre it's classified as anyway.

The progression of our protag's life is perfectly paced. Aria grows and changes throughout the story, going from the (non-cliche) rich girl to the caring young-woman who's willing to risk her comfortable life and promising future. And not just to win the guy but to save her city. Talk about an inspiring female lead! 

Our male lead, Hunter, is intriguing and by far the most mysterious part of the entire story. He proves himself to be swoon-worthy! He's not the kind of  guy you love to hate or admire because he's so wholesome. But he's real and genuine. Nothing about him feels fake or forced. He's the kind of boyfriend you would've actually wanted at 17. Too bad it's not that clean-cut for Aria.

The Mediocre: As the plot moves forward, there isn't a lot of "surprise" going on. I kept thinking, "Where's the mystery? What's the twist supposed to be here?" Really, it felt more like a contemporary novel with a futuristic setting. Like we know the obvious hurdles our characters have to overcome, so where's that *gasp* moment??? The outstanding writing and interesting characters kept me reading, but there were a few places where I just skimmed because it wasn't exciting. I will say there was one epic twist at the end I didn't expect which was fabulous! I love surprises! I just wish there could've been more.

Another issue I encountered was Aria's reaction to certain people in her life. Something epic would happen, and she was just like, "Meh. Okay." And while I get Lawrence's intent to keep her low key so she wouldn't give up the ghost so early, even her internal reaction was disappointing. Still, it wasn't enough of a let-down to stop reading. Also, Aria's best-friend Kiki is kind of annoying. I wish she would've been more likable. I'm a big fan of heroic secondary characters. I feel like they should really enhance the story and bring out a lot about plot and why our lead is the way they are. If you're going to the trouble to bring them up frequently, there needs to be a reason for them. Kiki was more like that irritating person you hang out with for the sake of obligation. She and Aria were so different in ways that would cause two people not to want to spend time together. I LOVED Hunter's bromance though.

There were several parts where I just skimmed through the story because it wasn't interesting. It didn't move the plot forward and felt more like a placeholder than an integral scene. There were maybe a total of 20 pages or so that could've been entirely culled, and no one would miss them. 

Conclusion: Based on the originality of the story, the lead characters, and the writing, I'd give MYSTIC CITY 5 Hats, no problem. But due to the slow plot at times, the mediocre secondary characters, and the lack of page-turning mystery, I'm going to say 4 Hats: still an awesome read and recommendation but not without a couple of flaws. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

UtopYA: How One Conference Changed Everything

Where do I even begin? I've been home since Sunday, and my mind is still reeling. Was UtopYAcon informative? Absolutely! Did I learn more about the craft of writing, marketing, editing, and such? Without a doubt! But even among the things I took away from an author's perspective, the thing I learned the most about was ME.

I spent an entire weekend with a group of people who, although each person was different, we were all the same. And coming from someone who's never related to other humans, that's seriously saying something!

I think we all have preconceived notions of what to expect out of successful people. It'd be a lie if I
said I didn't walk into this conference (my 1st ever!) without my own ideas. I mean, did you see the list of celebrities there?! There were too many to even name. Like, author goddesses and blogging queens! I figured everyone would stick to their own little niches.

Bloggers, go to one corner. 
Future writers, go the next.
Readers, you're over here.
Authors, you're up front.

Then something amazing happened ... everyone got thrown in together like a big, creative melting pot of awesomesauce!!! It was phenomenal! And I can honestly say, not one person was looking past another, trying to find someone more important to talk to. No one stared down their nose like they were just tolerating your presence. It was the first time in my life I'd been around more than one female in a room and there weren't any underhanded attempts at sabotage. You  know what I'm talking about, ladies. That invisible current that sparks when women enter a room. You can feel it. I imagine that's what it's like right before you get struck by lightning. That ominous sense of your impending demise...

Yeah, none of that crap was there! It was more than a little disconcerting. I was prepared to wade through a herd of smiling velociraptors. Imagine my delight before the conference when NYT bestseller, Addison Moore and Wonder-blogger, SupaGurl sat down at our table and actually talked to us like they were interested in what we had to say.

Enter: The Stumbler.

Then they insisted we go outside to the patio where the massive group of Who's Who had assembled. Seriously? Any of you who know me understand I'm not exactly endearingly awkward--I'm just awkward. But in spite of that, I pushed beyond my comfort zone and followed suit. Again, imagine my relief when all the awesome ladies out there smiled and waved and actually welcomed our little group.

I figured there was a good chance we'd actually fallen
 For real.

Long story relatively short, the entire conference and all the authors, readers, and bloggers there were so excited to be a part of each other's lives and success. They were incredibly supportive and enthusiastic. It wasn't one person using another to get ahead. There was no, "I've made it big, so now I'm too big for you," mentality. It was a common theme of: We all love books. Plain and simple. And when you share something as straightforward but powerful as that, there's no competition. There's no need to one-up or compare. There's just inclusion. 

At the end of the conference, the incredible Janet Wallace (hilarious creator and all-around BA woman) opened the mic to everyone there so we could talk about our experiences. What every person had to say was astounding. It wasn't about schmoozing. It wasn't about bragging. Each individual who stepped up to that podium had something genuinely life-changing to say. It was beautifully heartfelt and courageous! Believe me when I say tears abounded! Chi (aka Beth Isaacs) leaned over,
glossy-eyed, and whispered, "This is like a therapy session!"

It was one of the most moving things I've ever experienced.

I'll never forget Amanda Havard stepping up there and completely changing my outlook on life and writing. She talked about her friends in the room, making note that friends wasn't something she was good at. After years of tactics to avoid people, now she felt like she was home. She said she imagined that feeling must've been what high school and college was for everyone else. That this (this time in  her life) was her youth! And guys, that just totally struck a chord with me. The feeling that Amanda described ... it was me! Who knew anyone else felt that way? It'd only taken me 30 years to find that kind of acceptance, but it was totally worth it.

All that I learned and experienced at UtopYA is way too much to cover in one post, but I'm genuine in saying that it was life changing. If you haven't gone before, 2014 is YOUR YEAR! UtopYA 2013: What You Need to Know and Why You Need to Go in 2014. Every person there said UtopYA is their favorite conference because of the tight-knit community. I couldn't agree more. They're my family. And not even the ones you don't claim ;)

Seriously, consider going! If you want to know what's up, who's there, and what to expect, this is an awesome resource:

So, if I had to sum up my experience at UtopYA in one word, it would be INSPIRED.

Happy (and feeling included) Writing.