Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Reads

Y’all, this is super pathetic.

I never realized how I DON’T read scary books until I came across this Top Ten list and realized I had pretty much nothing to give you!

I literally don’t have goosebumps-on-your-skin, lock-the-doors-three-extra-times books to tell you about, but I have a few I’ve read that were suspenseful and a fun ride, so I’m going to list those for you.

At the end, YOU can fill in for my insufficiencies by giving me your best scary/thrilling/suspenseful books recommendations!

1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson There was some serious scary for me here, especially towards the very end…

2) The Maze Runner – James Dashner It may not be the traditional version of scary, but right from the beginning there’s such a sense of the discordant that I was on edge. Also…the Maze…

3) Alex Cross – James Patterson All of James Patterson’s books have scared the pants off of me. Though much more thriller than horror, his villains are bad enough to have dropped from the pages of the darkest kind of horror.

4) The Distant Hours – Kate Morton This more than any other doesn’t read at all the way a mystery or suspense might traditionally read, but because of the ending, it definitely ranks up in my list of scary books. The same is true for…

5) Half-Broken Things – Morag Joss  A “psychological thriller”, this book took me several days to process. I’ve read enough books that I’m not usually completely floored by things – admiring, impressed, etc. most definitely but not unable to function – and this book did it. In fact, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

So, that’s my abbreviated list of non-traditional scary books. Y’all better help me out in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly post brought by The Broke and the Bookish. Check out their blog for links to more Top Ten Tuesday posts (by people who have read a lot more scary books than I have!)

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The Case for a Break

This is really weird you guys.

I am NOT writing. I’m taking a break, actually.

I know. You can tell me I’m a terrible writer because a writer writes every day, or you can welcome me to the dark side, whichever. It doesn’t matter, because I’ll still be just as anxious about it, and I’ll still stick to my guns.

No writing until November 1st.

The reason I’m not writing is that I’m doing National Novel Writing Month. In this wild venture, I will create 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30, and they will be imperfect and disconnected and miserable in some places, but they will exist and I will have the better part of a novel on my hands. (If you’re doing Nano, let’s be writing buddies! my username is JamieAdams.)

I know myself and my writing rhythms. And what I know about those rhythms is that I can write a whole lot for a long time, but when I run out of words I’m really, really done. Anything beyond that is going to be horrible, and if I push that hard it might be a month before I’m ready to write again.

Needless to say, it’s miserable when it happens and especially miserable would be having it happen in the middle of the year’s biggest push. So, despite feeling strange and lazy and like I really should be writing, I will not type a fictional word until November 1st.

In the meantime, I’m plotting and planning and exploring my characters. I’m reading excellent books, getting ahead on November’s homework, exercising, cleaning the  apartment before it reaches landfill status, watching an entire season of What Not to Wear, making cookies and brownies in mugs, and sleeping in twelve hour stretches.

In other words, I’m recharging and refilling so that, when I do sit down to write, I have everything I need to take myself and, maybe, a someday reader on a wild journey.

Have you ever deliberately taken a break? If you haven’t, what’s stopping you from allowing yourself a chance to rest? If you have, what did you feel was the greatest benefit of the break?

Blog Tour: The Ivory Tower

Tour Banner

Hi friends!

Today I’m super excited to be participating in the tour for Kristin Pulioff’s new short story, The Ivory Tower.

The Ivory Tower is a peek into the world of Simone, an orphan living in a protection camp in a future time. Simone has lived all her life in the camp under the protection of the guards, knowing that beyond the walls is contamination, danger, and suffering. Simone struggles, however, to follow the rules thanks to a love of fun and an interest in the world around her. One day, that interest in the world takes a dangerous turn.

The Ivory Tower is an intriguing look into the ways in which people convince themselves of a truth that is more convenient than reality. Though short, the story is realistic in it’s parameters and speaks honestly to both the curiosity involved in pushing the boundaries, and the consequences of those actions. I particularly appreciated that the results of Simone’s actions were natural and were neither exaggerated nor magically done away with. Give The Ivory Tower a read – you’ll be given plenty to think about.

As a part of The Ivory Tower’s blog tour, I’ve been given a Top Ten to present to you guys, so without further rambling by me, here are the Top Ten Ways Simone’s Protection Camp is Different than a Summer Camp:

10. In summer camp, you get bright new shirts. Simone gets scratchy burlap.

9. In summer camp, lunch is an overflowing buffet, not a surprise bag of scraps.

8. The only leather shoes in summer camp are handmade moccasins. In Simone’s camp they are the rigid polished boots of the Colonel.

7. In summer camp your leader wears a whistle and a smile. In Simone’s camp, he wears a dome hat and scowl.

6. In summer camp the crafts are wood carving and jewelry making, not factory sewing.

5. In summer camp, you know where you are. In Simone’s the designation of protection had long faded.

4. In summer camp, parades are fun. In Simone’s, parades mean the Colonel is coming.

3. In summer camp, exploration and hiking is encouraged. In Simone’s camp, it is a restricted activity.

2. In Simone’s camp, games come with unexpected consequences.

1. In summer camp, your new nickname might be “Woodland Fairy” not “#277.

So there you have it! You can learn more about Kristin via Twitter @kristinpulioff or on her website, kristinpulioff.com.

Top Ten Tuesday: Character Names I Love

Y’all, I am SO excited about this week’s Top Ten. Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish – be sure to check out all the other great Top Ten posts!

Today is the Top Ten Character Names I Love (Or Ten Unusual Names) which I think is an absolutely awesome list to make! What is more endearing to us than a character’s name? Just that one word can bring back the whole host of memories affiliated with the book, and that is a beautiful thing. So, here are my Top Ten:

1) Augustus Waters – The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. I loved this book with all of my heart, and was fascinated by the ideas presented in it’s pages. And yes, I did and do adore Augustus. It’s a strong, slightly-old-fashioned name and fits him exactly so.

2) Eli Ever – Vicious, V.E. Schwab.  I haven’t yet ranted, raved, raged, and rejoiced over this book with you guys, but it’s coming. Believe me, it’s coming. For now, just know that I love the perfection of this name for numerous reasons, but mostly because a) I’m a sucker for male biblical names and b) Ever as a last name? Particularly as ELI’S last name? *die*

3) Anne Shirley – Anne of Green Gables, L.E. Montgomery. Talk about a name with staying power! Almost everyone everywhere knows who she is, even if they know almost nothing about her stories. These books are very near and dear to my heart, and I am firmly convinced she is my twin and, were she here, would be my best friend in the entire world.

4) Meg Murray – A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. Get this: I am such a huge Wrinkle in Time fan that I won an essay contest about influential women with Madeleine L’Engle as my subject. I adore her writing, love the magic and mystery and adventure of those books, and still since at how much of my own awkwardness and sense of separation from the world is reflected in Meg.

5) Eustace Clarence Scrubb – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis. “There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb. And he almost deserved it.” Perfection!

6) Hermione Granger – Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling. How could that name every belong to anyone else?

7) Artemis Fowl – Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer I think it’s something about how regal the first name is with how plain, even slightly ridiculous, the last name is.

8) Nancy Drew – Nancy Drew mysteries, Carolyn Keene. Short, straightforward, no-nonsense, just like she is. Not to mention Ned Nickerson…

9) Susan “Stargirl” Caraway – Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli I hold everything about this book dear. It is beautiful and timeless, and Stargirl has that mysterious ring of something perfectly unique, slightly tragic, but somehow joyous about it.

10) Guy Montag – Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. His name is almost a non-name…a word that can be specific in it’s function as a name, but might just as well be describing anyone. The use of name like that, especially in a “book about books” and a story that criticizes modern living, speaks volumes.

What are your top ten names, friends?

Paying Attention

I was born with ants in my pants.

More or less.

Seriously though, even on a good day when I am deeply engaged in what I’m doing, it’s pretty rare for me to hold still. Even sleeping I toss and turn and fling blankets on the floor – I feel sorry for my future husband.

The reason this constant movement is relevant – and it is, I swear it is! – is that being an antsy sort of person is indicative of the state of internal affairs as well. I am someone who has difficulty concentrating, or rather, I concentrate best ON something when I’m filtering other things OUT. Silence is the most distracting thing in the world to me. It leaves space for all the other thoughts and idea and questions and musings to parade through one side of my brain, taking my attention from the thing I’m supposed to be accomplishing. Bring on the humming heaters, quietly rushing traffic, sighing computer, indie Pandora station, and I can finally write or get homework done. All those sounds occupy the back spaces of my mind with unimportant things so the central focus can be my task. I’ll be wiggling, but I’ll be completing my checklist too.

Attention is a currency, y’all, and the nature of human events is that you will spend your attention one way or another. The only things you get to decide are where and how.

The phrase “pay attention” is an interesting one. It implies an exchange of some kind, because you are giving something, your attention, presumably in order to get something else. For most of us, that something is a tangible goal or accomplishment. But what this also means, which we often forget, is that if attention is a currency than it must have value, and if it has value we might want to be thinking about how we’re spending it.

I’ve always been a big fan of tv. I love everything from the old shows like I Love Lucy to the TLC staples like What Not to Wear and current fun Once Upon a Time and The Big Bang Theory. If you follow me on Twitter, you know all about my addiction to Parks and Rec! But lately I’ve really been struggling to stick with a show. Even a half hour show hasn’t been able to hold my attention all the way through, and I find myself writing down story ideas or checking email halfway through. So what does this mean?

I think it means two things. One: Maybe it’s time to stop watching tv for awhile. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with television, it is admittedly the most passive activity we do. There may be an occasion where it is thought-provoking or inspirational or amusing, but for the most part if it did not exist, humanity would be perfectly capable of going on without it. But this is only a minor note. The more important issue is, Two: It’s time to think about what I’ve been giving my attention to lately.

If you’re engaged in creative work, no matter if that is art, design, dance, writing, or music, you know the deep concentration and focus it takes to make progress. You have to write the words, over and over, you have to play the scales and repeat the measures, you have to tweak and adjust brushstrokes and shade. There’s no other way to become more accomplished than by putting in the hours of work. And that’s going to take a lot of attention. Therefore, if attention is a limited commodity, and you need to save a large portion of it for things that are truly important to you, such as your creative endeavors, is it right to let the rest fall out of your pockets into the first mindless pursuit you encounter?

Everybody needs to rest. Everyone needs to take breaks, pause and enjoy moments, and let life just happen. But be careful that your rest is truly that, and not an attention-thief dipping into your bank while you are unaware.

Make sure you’re not squandering your attention, but instead making careful payments towards what you really want. PAY attention.

A Tale for Tuesday

So, every so often I like to prove that I’ve actually been accomplishing something with all the hours I claim are dedicated to making words on a page.

What I’m about to show you may be a little frightening. It has only been edited once, and it was written all in one massive word blurt. Why am I showing this rough, misshapen thing to you in it’s current state?

Because I think that raw words keep us humble. It’s good to be honest about the work we do, at every stage of the creative process. It’s good to be transparent in our thoughts and the way we strive for better things. Is this piece still a little bit of a mess? Certainly. Could it be much, MUCH better than it is? Most definitely. But I like to think that as unpolished as it is, it still is more beautiful than first drafts from six months or a year ago. Anything can be fixed up and made pretty, but that first burst of words can sometimes be the clearest indicator of how far we have come.

If I haven’t scared you away yet, here in all it’s unedited glory is the story:

Reverie

She was a woman born and formed of ice, though she walked the summer pathways in cherry scented air, and when the sandman came to sweep her away in his house of stardust she was too weighty to leave earth.

He marveled at this, for humans were the lightest of all beings, made of shadows and dust, lacking substance. It seemed that a woman all of ice should be flimsy and easily destroyed. Though her body was lined with gray-black cracks and her face broken in places, she was shining solid and not at all afraid.

“Would you be more frightened if I was sun instead of moon?” He slithered sheer black arms around her silvery figure.

“Not at all. I don’t become afraid so easily – at least, not of living things.” Smooth in his grasp, her cold filled the hollow places where he normally packed dreams. “Do you wish I was afraid of you?”

“Most people are. I don’t always bring good dreams and deep sleep, you know.”

“And sometimes you bring sleep exactly when wakefulness is needed.”  She rested lightly on his porch, her back against the railing as the glow around them filled in her cracks and scars. “Why do you bring those dreams of darker things? Can’t you keep them in yourself and not burden weary souls still more?”

“If I were to swallow up all the blackness dreams are capable of, I’d wither away and cease to exist. The world would be free of dark dreams, yes, but along with them would go all dreams.”

“I fear I could still fall into reverie.”

He leaned his blackened form against the railing beside her, though the stardust passed straight through him until he and the rail were part of the same substance.

“You are not like the rest.”

Her frozen hands crept lightly over his chest, steaming breath rising despite the fruited breeze rustling the orchard around them.

“I was, once.”

“We were all different than we are now. It’s a story without an ending.”

When she moved there was a tingling in the air and the chiming of a thousand tiny bells, chorusing with haunted joy in defiance of the crickets singing gaily in the dusk.

“Why were you out walking tonight?” he asked.

She sat atop a tiny galaxy beside his front door. “Don’t pretend you haven’t seen me other nights. Your travels take you far and wide, I can’t believe you haven’t passed this way before.”

“I have, many times.” He hesitated, waiting to see if he should go on. Her frozen eyes met his, rushing waters under solid stillness, so he did. “For years I have passed by this very orchard, at the setting of the sun, and here you have always been, walking this same path through the cherry trees and wearing that same look of desire and pain. Why have you never asked for dreams before?” He leaned in close enough to feel the chill rising from her. “Why were you out walking tonight?”

She lifted off the galaxy and swept forward across the stardust porch to him, icicles trembling on her lashes and lips, her steps glassy and her face transparent. “I want something much bigger than dreams.”

He came to his feet and stood before her, an inky blackness of what might have been a man and now was only hollowed spaces holding horrors and imaginings. Her wintry hands settled on his formless shoulders as the bitter chill of her presence tried to rest in the space that should have been him.

“I want realities.”

“They might be too much for you to bear. You might be shattered by their weight.”

She pressed a shining finger to her lips, silencing him. “I won’t be. Many things have tried to shatter me, and none have yet succeeded. Dreams are frightening because the promises they make may never come to be. Realities are simply as they are.”

“You’ve been on this earth so long you’ve forgotten what power can truly be.”

Of his own accord his shadow-hands rested on the marbled curve of her waist.

“Not forgotten. Overcome.”

Her icy breath belonged to him. He could feel it, though he wasn’t anything and couldn’t feel and shouldn’t have had breath or even voice; the air she took in and released entered him and he thought perhaps he did have some kind of substance, something shimmery and temporary and swiftly dispelled once again but still a form, if only for a time.

“You did say you’re not afraid.”

“Not anymore.”

His arm, dark with desire and things not yet formed, snaked further around her as he brought her to walk beside him. He captured the rope in his grasp and in one smooth motion set them free from the tethers that bound the house to the ground. When he let go he called to the stars and begged them to shine as they so rarely did, called to the night to take them in, called to the darkness to lift them on their way.

The woman of ice did not weight down the sandman’s house this time.

The blackened blue of a summer dusk embraced them as they lifted on summer breezes, sliding over the tops of the cherry trees in a trail of stardust and faded memories turned to mere imaginations. As they went the dreams fells smoothly, out the windows and doors and up through the chimney, wended on their way by the eager desires of slumberers below.

The woman climbed to the peak of the house beside him, her glittering feet finding their steps as surely as if she’d never known another world than this. Below them the lights in the villages clustered in valleys glowed with all the warmth of late-summer contentedness and branches in orchards all along their way moved smoothly in their silent dance.

The stars called out to their brothers forming the walls and windows and doors of the sandman’s house, and the woman born and formed of ice drank in the cherry-scented air of a summer’s night, swept up in the reality so large she was no longer afraid of dreams.

Trying the Terrifying

Get ready to be pushed a little, y’all.

I am a firm believer that as writers, it’s really easy to settle into the things we are comfortable with. We stick with one type of work: novels, novellas, short stories, or flash fiction. We stay tucked safely into our particular genre, nestled neatly in our particular sub-genre if we can help it. We write the things that we feel we have a natural knack for, because it’s hard enough coming up with ideas and filling the page with words as it is, thank you very much, and there’s no need to go bouncing off into other types of writing.

I beg to differ.

Not that I don’t like writing safe things – and not that it isn’t a serious struggle to fill the page some days!! The other day I not only cleaned the apartment but I folded laundry, exercised, AND did half my homework before I finally got my 1000 words in for the day. It was that slow and painful. So I totally get it. But I also know it’s not the way to go.

If you have a genre and a length that’s write for you, that is fantastic! You should embrace that, but you shouldn’t let it hold you back. You have no idea what you might be capable of until you give it a shot. Your natural inclination IS going to be to stick to the things you know or feel mildly capable in, but for your own sake as a writer, you need to shove past those. No one is saying you have to become excellent, or be published, but you need to try.

In the past two years, I’ve written a YA historical fiction set in WWII, a contemporary novel comprised of short stories strung along a plot line, an NA romantic suspense, two YA fantasy novels, an NA suspense, several romance short stories, most contemporary but a few alternate history, horror, fantasy, and one I can’t identify whatsoever, a handful of flash fictions,  and most recently an MG urban fantasy novel.

Most of these are complete garbage. They will never, never travel off of my computer, and I’d delete them altogether if it wasn’t so much fun looking back and laughing at them. But can I trace my progress as a writer through them? Ohhhhhhh yes.

I can see how my dialogue has improved. I see the places where I learned to drop using tags so often and start using action. I notice how my characterization has improved, I note the times where my plot still struggles or I have a terrible time keeping track of names and places. Most of these books and stories scared me when I started, because every time I was walking into a whole new paradigm completely blind and with absolutely no grounds for thinking I was going to succeed in the endeavor. But what an amazing couple of years it has been!

Without these words and experiences, I would never have become the writer I am today. I expect that unless I keep trying things, experimenting, combining, and risking, I won’t become the writer I’m capable of being in the future. Writing, any creative activity really, is all about the risk. What you’re willing to invest in your work. Yes, you might end up with a computer full of very lengthy punch lines, but you also might land on something amazing, and no matter the outcome of each manuscript, you will have built your craft.

What more could you ask for out of thousands and thousands of words?