Monday, April 24, 2017

What Have I Been Doing?

Wow, I just realized how long it has been since I've written on here. Maybe you didn't miss me, but I missed being on here! Let me tell you, April has maybe been the craziest month of my life this far! I'll just give a quick recap.

WEEKEND NO. 1
I had the pleasure of going to Nashville to attend Maggie Stiefvater and Courtney Steven's 7 Sentences Seminar, which was amazing! I swear, I learned so much in eight hours. I was amazed. We walked out of there with a story concept, character, setting, and plot. And I'm actually pretty excited by the premise! Plus, it was such an honor to get to listen to these two amazing authors that I respect and admire so much. They're also fantastic speakers!

WEEKEND NO. 2
Family Wedding in Cali! I hadn't been to California since I don't know I was ten maybe? A long time ago, and I had definitely never been to La Jolla (which is basically a super wealthy suburb of San Diego). But getting there was no piece of cake. It was actually the flight experience from Hell. There's no other way to put it. Long story short: after horrendous weather the previous day, we stood in line for six hours, from 11:30 pm to 5:30 am, to get our flight rescheduled. We even would've flown into LAX and driven to San Diego. We just wanted to get there for the wedding. But it turned out not being the worst experience. I met Chris Gallagher, a disney animator and a super awesome YA book nerd, a man who was an extra in The Office episode "Casino Night," two missionaries, and two women from New Zealand. And we did eventually make it to San Diego...just without our luggage. And our luggage did not make it back into our hands for seven more days. Thank you, Delta. FYI if you're luggage doesn't arrive, you're allowed to go shop for necessities and Delta will reimburse you. They didn't tell us that tiny detail until after we'd missed the rehearsal dinner. Again, thank you, Delta. But the wedding on the beach was absolutely beautiful, the reception was a great party; and it was so wonderful to spend time with family that I don't get to see often enough! Even if it was a blitz trip.
Also that weekend, my publisher accepted the Gold Award in New Voice: YA from the Independent Book Publisher's Association's Ben Franklin Book Award for Ascension. LIKE WHAT? You guys, this is huge. I don't think I even fully understand how huge this is. But it's huge. And it's the first trophy I've ever gotten that isn't for participation. I'm actually good at something, guys!

WEEKEND NO. 3
Well, that was Easter weekend. Nothing too much insanely awesome happened here. I spent my entire Friday applying for part time work this summer. I'm still unemployed so...yep! It's okay though. The right job will come along. PLUS I got my sunflower seeds planted, and they are already sprouting. Hopefully, my mom won't kill them this year by accidentally thinking they're weeds.

WEEKEND NO. 4
Let's just say I did a lot of driving this past weekend, folks. I made the very worthwhile drive to Nashville to see one of my favorite humans and go see Jon McLaughlin with her at The City Winery. Very good wine, even better music. Seriously, if you haven't heard his music, listen to it. Not only is he a great song writer, he's an amazing pianist. His hands were a complete blur. It was also a neat concert because it was just him, and it was celebrating the 10th anniversary of his first album's release. So he just played that album, and I'd never heard that music before.
Next day, drive to Maryville to kick of Maryville College's celebration of Katherine Paterson, the magnificent author of Bridge to Terabithia among many others! We thought she'd be at the kick off of course...but that's just a lesson to all you out there. Don't just assume based off of a flyer. Get all the facts or else you'll be disappointed when she doesn't show up.
Well, Sunday she showed up, and she was more magnificent than I ever could have imagined--cute, witty, funny, sweet, and absolutely heart breaking. I think I almost started crying four times during her talk. FOUR! If you ever get the opportunity to hear her speak, GO! I mean, people drove all the way from Nashville.
Shout out to author Brooks Benjamin for having me get a Halls cough drop wrapper signed by her. Made her laugh and probably made me stand out ;)

So that's what's been going on with me.

What's going on with you?
     HER

Friday, March 31, 2017

March Book Round Up

1. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

        "He broke me in a way everyone should be lucky to be cracked open at least once." 

    I can't explain to you how beautiful this book was--told alternative from the past to the present, the story of a boy who's in love, has his heart broken and spins into chaos after his first love dies. After Griffin's ex-boyfriend Theo moves to California for college and finds himself a new boyfriend, nearly a reflection of Griffin, he spirals into chaos. Not only has he left his boyfriend, but also his best friend. When Theo drowns in the ocean, the chaos that has been Griffin's life turns into a black hole, especially when Theo's boyfriend comes to the funeral and stays with Theo's family, basically replacing Griffin in every aspect of Theo life. Now as he searches through the past, he has to piece together his future and who he is.
     This is Adam Silvera's most recent release and the first of his that I've read, and it was absolutely beautiful. I devoured it. With some of the authors I've read, like Leigh Bardugo, I met Adam before I read his books. He spoke at Yallfest and was so inspirational and interesting to listen to. He's definitely one to keep on your list.

2. Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

    I was really excited about this book, and the world she created is pretty interesting. However, the plot was really predictable. I was very intrigued by the main character Luna. In a world of darkness, this girl, the hidden princess living in a tower, is blind. How do you survive in that kind of world without sight? But she does, and it's impressive. But the rest of her character falls flat. She's a little bit self righteous and a little bit predictable. Fowler is a lovable, slightly more complex character but again is predictable. Less so than everything else. 
    Jordan threw a huge plot twist in at the very end, which I must admit left me reeling, however I don't think I'll continue on to the second book. 

3. Vampires in the Lemon Grove & Other Short Stories by Karen Russell

"There is a loneliness that must be particular to monsters--
the feeling that each is the only child of a species." 

     So I read short stories all the time. Obviously, I'm an english major, and it's what we do as creative writing majors. However, I've never actually read a full short story collection. Technically, this is assigned reading for my final project in Traditions in Short Fiction. When I raised my hand to coincidentally take this collection, my professor said, "I knew you'd choose this one." Ha-ha! And I'm really loving it! Russell is ironic, weird, unique, and awesome!! She makes all of the unusual stuff she writes about sound completely normal while also keeping the weirdness of it. Then she throws these sentences in that are just...woah!

Up next, Saturday by Ian McEwan!

Happy Book Week!
      HER

Monday, March 27, 2017

Breaking Down Barriers: Middle Grade Fiction Panel

This past Saturday, my all-majors creative writing club Chattanooga Writer's Society, organized middle grade fiction panel with the amazing authors Brooks Benjamin and Andrew Maraniss. These two men have written fantastic books both dealing with social stigmas and barriers, though they are quite different styles.

My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin is a fun fiction story about Dillon, a football playing, wanna-be dancer with some sick ninja moves. Where some characters in M7GLiT are confident in who they are, Dillon is always questioning, always wondering what other people thing, and always judging himself. I'm not going to tell you the rest. Go read it :)
Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss is a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball player in the South Eastern Conference. This biography explores all of the racism and hate that Perry experienced as he made this life-changing decision. Maraniss condensed is biography down to a 40,000 word young reader edition so that children can be inspired by this amazing man's courage, faith, and dedication.

Unfortunately, our turnout for this awesome event was minimal, and I just can't understand this. We have an amazing jewel at Star Line books. She brings in authors at least once a week for discussions and signings. She has a wide variety of book selections, yet people still don't come. I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to go to literary events in your town. If you are a writer, this is called literary citizenship--supporting people in your community. If your a reader, coming out and supporting these authors keeps them going, keeps them writing books for you!

Plus, this is an amazing opportunity for all of us. If we go to conferences or book festivals, one on one time with authors is highly unlikely. Stand in line, sign a book, and move on. But signings at bookstores gives you time to ask questions, talk to the authors about your passions and aspirations, and just being around people that you admire. This is also a great way to discover new authors to read. If I hadn't decided to go to Brooks's book visit to Star Line last fall, I never would've met this awesome teacher/author who I wish I'd had as a teacher and he wouldn't have come back to do this panel for my organization.

You might show up expecting to get your book signed and walk out with a new friend. Authors are normal people. For the most part, we really like other people. That's who we write about (yes, I do pay attention to what you say to me *insert evil grin here*). PLUS, you're supporting your local bookstore. I know not all towns have local bookstores, but most have some within driving distance. Let me tell you, bookstore owners love their patrons. And I love bookstores. What kind of world would it be if we didn't have indie bookstores? Not a world I want to be in.

So go out, support your favorite authors, meet new ones, and keep our indie bookstores going! Thanks to Brooks, Andrew, Chattanooga Writer's Society, and Star Line Books for another amazing, fun panel! Can't wait for next semester's.

Until I tell you about the books I read this month,
       HER 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It Takes a Village

I'm not talking about raising a child, though that is true, yes. What I'm saying is--it takes a village to publish a book. A lot people give full credit to the author, and while I smile and say, "Thank you!" I always think about how I wouldn't be here today without my amazing publishing village!

As many of you might have seen, Ascension has been shortlisted for the Independent Book Publisher Association's Ben Franklin Book Award in New Voice: YA. This is maybe the most spectacular thing to ever happen. A Ben Franklin is the top book award in the independent publishing world. I mean, this is huge, guys. I never in a million years would have dreamed that I'd actually be able to say that or get to put an award sticker on my book. But I can, and I will!

Everyone is congratulating me, and I'm so very appreciative of all the support. Now it's my turn to say thank you to my village!

To my publisher, the most amazing, independent, brilliant, surprising, talented woman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing--thank you for seeing something in me and my book and moving us forward.

To my editor, who thinks so very differently from me yet seems to completely get my writing, my characters, and story--thank you for pushing me to think differently, work hard, and never settle.

To the Head Elf, the most kick-butt, do-all, hilarious woman--thank you for being the biggest cheerleader, flying all the way out to little Maryville for the book launch, and pushing this book down everyone's throats :)

To my graphic designer, who I converted to be a vampire fan after just 10 pages -- thank you for wanting to read more than 10 pages and for designing a perfect, beautiful cover and layout for my story.

To my copy editor, who went above and beyond, who read for more than just comma errors--thank you for those 17 pages of notes to fix. I resented it then. I treasure it now.

To my first reader, who may be more attached to this book who I am, who knew Ascension when it was Macy the Teenage Vampire -- there aren't enough thank you's in the world for helping me to shape Ascension in your basement for those 6 years.

To my parents, the ones who always support me, encourage me, cry with me when Ascension gets an award, sell books out of the trunks of their cars or at business meetings...simply, thank you.

And thanks to all of you for reading Ascension, bringing it to life, supporting it and me and this team. Where would I be without all of you?

Look for the official results of the IBPA Ben Franklin Award April 7th!!

Keeping you posted,
    HER 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring Break in Boston!

Woohoo!! Travel time again! It feels like forever since I’ve been to a new place when really it’s been less than a year. But I guess that’s a long time for me haha. So Friday afternoon, I flew to Boston to visit my cousin and my sister from another mister.
I don’t really want to talk about Friday. You know how it’s possible for everything to go wrong when it comes to flying? Well, that was yesterday, except, thank the Lord, they didn’t lose my bag. Though I think it would’ve taken an effort to lose my bag since I was sitting in the Newark airport for three hours waiting on a flight that was supposed to load right after I got there. Anyway, let’s just say that I didn’t touch ground until 2 in the morning.
I saw so much this weekend (JUST 2 DAYS), I’ll bullet point this trip for you lovely readers J
·      Central Square:
o   Breakfast at Veggie Galaxy
o   H-Mart – huge Asian market with restaurants within
o   Graffiti Alley – found a wall to match my jacket
·      Beacon Hill
o   Saw the original bar where Cheers was set. If you haven’t watched it, you should. It’s great.
o   Made the mistake of walking along the Charles River where we were almost blown in by the viciously cold winds.
o   Walked past Boston Common and the Public Gardens
·      Newberry
o   This is where all the primo shopping is at. We went to a really cool shop called the Fairy Store, which was misleadingly a completely Harry Potter shop.
o   Amorino – THE BEST ICE CREAM/GELATO EVER! They shape it like a rose and have gelato macarons that are melt in your mouth amazing.
o   Trident Bookstore – also a cafĂ©, old feel, creaky floors, wide variety, lots of cool side items, looked like fantastic food!
·      Theatre District:
o   Dinner at Sip which had great sushi. Man, I haven’t had sushi in so long. Missed it!
·      Financial District:
o   The Black Rose: If you’re looking for a traditional Boston bar, this is the place to go. Great, fun atmosphere!
·      Allston:
o   Allston Diner for breakfast – great hometown restaurant with cute kitchen accessories. They whistle from the kitchen when the food’s ready.
·      Brookline:
o   Coolidge Corner
§  Brookline Book Smith: Fantastic YA section, open floor plan, TONS of side items. They also told me that they love indie authors. So, they get an A+ in my book. They’re also pet friendly
·      Copley Square:
o   Boston Public Library founded in 1630, absolutely spectacular. Has a Harry Potter-esque in some areas. It’s very modern in others. I had to take a panorama picture to get the full image with their motto.
o   Trinity Church – built in the 1700s. Have absolutely gorgeous stained glass. Individual and guided tours. Students had a $5 self guided tour. They had beautiful pipe organs and handmade kneeling images.
o   Max Brenner – restaurant + chocolatier. OH MY GOS. We had a churro fondue platter and Italian cream hot chocolate with dark chocolate in what they call “hug mugs”
·      The Prudential Center:
o   Mario Batali’s Eataly – a monster store of fresh Italian ingredients split into sections. So overwhelming and fantastic. You can even get fresh pasta, and they have meals in the building too.
o   Copley Shopping Center - the designer stores that I shouldn’t even be allowed to touch haha
·      We walked through Back Bay and Tremont
·      China Town – small, just a coupe blocks, huge welcome arch.
·      One of the oldest carousels, funded by Tiffany & Co.
·      Kennedy Greenway has art exhibits right now. A neat wall graphic, giraffe statue, light display, a little free library. Plus, I got hugged by a golden retriever. Fantastic.
·      The North End -  aka the Italian district
o   Dinner at La Famiglia – family sized meals. So leftovers for days. I ate my leftovers on the train for lunch.
o   Bova’s Baker – get the Florentine Cannoli. Oh, my good gracious. Yum.
What I learned about Boston
            *It was not planned well, but the public transit is pretty comprehensive and laid out.
            *You’re not a true Bostonian unless you drink Iced Dunkin Donuts Coffee in the dead of winter.
            * The farther out of the city you live, the cheaper the cost of living.


I CANNOT wait to go back!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day!

I'm never political in person. I'm not even political in private. I just don't consider myself a political person at all. I like people who are nice to others and that's pretty much the end of the story. However, today is international women's day. And maybe you'll say I'm being political for acknowledging this, but I find absolutely nothing wrong in acknowledging the kind, caring, brilliant, smart, strong, powerful women that have shaped who I am.

Anecdote time: So I have kind of unconventional birthdays. Like this year for instance, the ongoing joke was, "What happens when four girls, a mom, and a pastor walk into a bar?" Because that's literally what my birthday was. Well, on my 18th birthday, apart from my friends, I invited all the influential women in my life--teachers, my unofficial editor Mrs. Pam, my to-be publisher, neighbors, her friends who have all been like aunts to me. And I can tell you the impact that each one of them had on my life, but I don't want to keep you here for ten hours. 

Just as it is so important for young boys to have strong, respectable, caring male role models in their lives, it's equally as important for girls have strong female role models, not only in society but also in their personal spheres. 

The women in my life taught me to be proud and confident, to be strong and independent, to be caring and vulnerable, to cook an omelet the right way (I love breakfast). All of these women are doing what they love, influencing others in so many ways that they can't know. 

However, that's not to say I wasn't shaped by men too. My dad is everything to me. In one of my worst years, my sophomore english teacher told me that I was a good writer, encouraged me. Many other men have influenced me and encouraged me to be my best self. 

But today is about women because we rock, because we are equal, even though not all of the world understands that. God did not create as to be subservient but to serve with, to be equal and paired with. Men and women are meant to move through life together, not separate and unequal. 

Kudos to the amazing women today who are shattering glass ceilings, who are doing what they want to do with their lives for their reasons, for their happiness, for no one else. If all of you are lucky enough to have women in your lives like I have, congratulations. If you don't, it's not too late to find them. It's never too late to learn and change and grow. Again, that's what we were made to do. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Book Round Up

Happy Fat Tuesday!! Hope you're all enjoying your last day of indulgence :)

Alright, so my reading was somewhat lacking this month. But, to be fair, it was a crazy busy month. That's no excuse, but the two books I did read were great!!

1. A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern
      So, as is normal, this has been on my shelf for about a year. I met Cammie McGovern at the 2015 Southern Festival of Books, which normally leads me to buy speaker's books if I don't know them already. [Fun Fact: her sister plays lady Cora on Downton Abbey...no, I'm not kidding :D]
       A Step Toward Falling is told from the alternating perspectives of a young girl with a mental disability, Belinda, and another girl, Emily who goes to her high school. One Friday night, these two girls are both at the football game, and when Emily passes to go back to her seat, she spots a guy sexually harassing Belinda. And she doesn't do anything. Well, she does, she goes to find a teacher, and it turns out one of the football players has the exact same reaction. Frozen in fear when we'd like to think we'd do the right thing and act. After the janitor helps Belinda and everything is taken care of, she refuses to go back to school, and her mom and grandma have no problem with that. And as a punishment, Emily and the other passive football player are made to volunteer at an afternoon group for adults with disabilities.
       This story took me a while to get into, to be honest. I was really excited to read it, but the beginning was just a little slow. I couldn't connect to Emily. However, as the story progressed and the characters started to develop, the story started to flow and move. I love the development, the different conflicts. This was a very high school, but in a great way. I think it was an accurate representation of how a high schooler in this situation might react and feel afterward. And McGovern's depiction of Belinda was beautiful and touching.

2. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (3rd in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children)
      It's been a couple years since I read the first two Peculiars books, though I loved them, and the movie that came out the end of last year pulled me back into the world. They did a pretty great job, though they switched the ability of the main female protagonist :/
      I can't really give you a synopsis of this book because it would make no sense if you haven't read the first books. So...go back and read the first books! You'll get to learn about a world of peculiar children and adults with all sorts of unique abilities living in protected time loops that have them repeat the same day over and over again so that they never age and are protected from the normals. The really unique part is that Riggs has included photographs to show off his peculiars and the worlds they live--both creepy and awesome! It's really an intriguing read.
       Again, it took me a long time to get back into this series, but I think that's more because I haven't been in the world for so long. After I'd read about 50 pages, I was fully invested again. There's a dry, morbid humor to this novel, on top of young love challenged by the fact that Emma has been sixteen for hundreds of years and Jacob is really only 16. The innate goodness of humanity is challenged, as well as our perception of looks. It's true, looks can deceive. What we might have considered to be horrid monsters for the first two books might actually be okay creatures under the correct instruction. (read the books and you'll understand).
       All that I have left in this series is the Tales of the Peculiars, which was a book that Riggs created as a history book inside the series, then he actually wrote it for our pleasure reading. Pretty neat extension of the series, if you ask me.

Next Up: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Reading anything good?
     HER