Monday, February 25, 2013


No post today because I spent this entire past weekend doing work. Which was super fun. (Not).

This is going to be one of those week's where work and writing collide and cause me to want to crawl into a corner and hide from the world.

So what's going on writing-wise, you ask?

Well, I'm in the agent round of Cupid's Blind Speed Dating. Which officially starts at noon today. To see my post click here. If you have comments on either my query or first 250, you can't technically leave them there, so feel free to come and leave them here. :)

If I was the nail biting type, that's what I'd be doing right now. Since I'm not, I'm just going to throw myself into my work and pretend like I don't have a writing habit at all. Then when I get home from work today, I will freak out about what's happening at Cupid's. At least, that's the goal. Knowing me I won't be able to resist checking Cupid's site multiple times today.

That's what smarts phones are for, right?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Where to Start: Epic Fantasy

My comics newbie status has been exposed to the world, much to my benefit. My post from Monday was re-posted on and from that I have gotten a plethora of recommendations from comics veterans. And I have truly appreciated it. My comics reading list is now extremely long and I'm excited to start diving into it.

Since comics vets have done me such a great service, I thought I would return the favor. Epic fantasy novels are my true love when it comes to fiction, and it's possible that some of you out there are unfamiliar with the genre and have an interest of getting into it. And it's possible that you've looked at the shelves in bookstores and seen these crazy fourteen book series or hear about waiting ten years for the next book*, and you feel overwhelmed. Epic fantasy might seem like this impossible genre full of long, long, long series that require a level of commitment you're not comfortable giving to something you've never tried.

Well I'm happy to tell you that is not the case. And if you're interested in dipping your toes in epic fantasy, I have some recommendations for you! (And thus begins my first ever "Where to Start" guide for an entire genre!)

The first question is probably: what do I mean by epic fantasy? Epic fantasy, also known as high fantasy, generally takes place on a world other than our own. It also involves stakes of an "epic" scale, as in the end of the world or something huge and monumental that's going to affect multiple nations. To be clear, this is not quite the same as "sword and sorcery" fiction, which generally deals with more personal goals and adventures. To be epic you have to have a truly legendary story line. And that's why a lot of epic fantasy series are a bajillion books long.

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, the classic example, the defining example. However, it should be noted that epic fantasy does not require non-human characters. Though LOTR is chock-full of them, something can be epic and only humans be involved. It just has to be an epic story line. Got it? No? Well, then check out Wikipedia's article.

Because of the large scope of the genre, it can be daunting to get into. But below is a list of short, complete** series. All of the recommendations are going to be proceeded by a short "are you looking for" sort of question. You'll see what I mean.
  • Are you looking for no commitment? Just one book, no sequels, but still epic?
  •  Stories of gods and men?
  • Do you like ninja assassins? (Who doesn't like ninja assassins?)
  • Thieves & the ultimate heist & secrets?
    • The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson (First book: Mistborn)****
  • Do you need a strong romance subplot?
    • The Rhapsody Trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon (First book: Rhapsody)
    • Threshold by Sara Douglass
  • You want to read the classics?
    • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (to be clear, I don't actually recommend this at your first epic fantasy book. Tolkien is like the opposite of accessible)
    • The Belgariad by David Eddings (First book: Pawn of Prophecy)
  • Want to just dive into the most epic complete fantasy series out there?
  • Need a first person narrative?
This list is just a short sampling of epic fantasy, but it's a good starting point if you're new to the genre. There is plenty more epic fantasy out there (especially if this list was extended to include more unfinished series). But these are generally the books I recommend to people who are new to the genre. 

If you're an epic fantasy reader, what other books do you recommend to new readers?  

*I'm looking at you, George R.R. Martin. (I admit 10 years is an over exaggeration. It was only six.)
**There is one exception. But it's a good exception.
***This is also a great series for starting kids in epic fantasy as the main character is 14.
****This may not be the most accessible trilogy though. It plays a lot on the tropes of fantasy though you don't need to know that to still enjoy the story.
*****And this is our exception. The Name of the Wind is fantastic. It's amazing and beautiful. But the third book in this series is not out yet.  But it's the only first person narrative, amazing epic fantasy series that I know of. And even if you have to wait for the third book, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why You Should Read Journey Into Mystery

(Only very minor set up spoilers. As well as general tone discussion. And I suppose it has one major spoiler for Siege, but any discussion of kid Loki is going to mention that.)

Kieron Gillen's run of Journey Into Mystery (i.e. issues #622-645), starring kid Loki, is one of the best things I've ever read.

Not "one of the best comic's I've read," but one of the best things I've ever read. Heck, I would even go as far to say it's one of the greatest pieces of fantasy fiction out there in  any medium. 

Sure, I'm biased, since we all know I'm a huge Loki fan. And my love of Tom Hiddleston's Loki is the reason why I picked up Journey Into Mystery (JIM) in the first place. At least, it's the reason I purchased it in the first place. I didn't actually read it until I realized that kid Loki was going to be on the Young Avengers, which you guys know I also love. So  yes, I was biased going in with my love of Loki and my desire to know about the kid version of him who would be on the Young Avengers.

The exact moment Kid Loki stamped his place in my heart. JIM #622
But it didn't take long for kid Loki to worm his own place in my heart, entirely separate from Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Yes, they are both Loki, but they are not the same Loki.  

Kid Loki is so adorable, so endearing, so amazingly precious. He's got so much heart. How can you not feel for this kid? He is considered one of the greatest threats of Asgard to ever live. In fact, he betrayed Asgard and then died saving it, for a reason no one knows (and the question of why Loki did it is an important one to JIM). And he doesn't remember any of it. He doesn't remember being a villain. All he knows it that everyone expects him to be a villain, and that the only person in the world who loves him is his big brother Thor. 

Loki is still Loki though. He's incorrigible and mischievous. But he's also a kid. He just wants people to like him and he just wants to play on his smart phone. (Really I think it's this pure joy of mischievousness that the movie is missing when it comes to its characterization of Loki. Loki enjoys thinking circles around everyone else, but also as this comic shows us, it's the only way he can be. Even without memory, without magic, Loki can't be any other way. He needs a puzzle to solve, he needs something complicated to figure out, which I think is shown beautifully in the very first issue of kid Loki's story.)

From the cover of JIM #628
But it's not just Loki as a character that makes JIM so great. It's the entire story-line. The first story is a "Fear Itself" tie-in, meaning that in the Thor comic there is a storyline called "Fear Itself" and JIM gives the entire series of events from Loki's perspective. But you don't need to read "Fear Itself" or any of the other Thor comics that JIM parallels. If you're not huge into comics or the Marvel-verse, I suggest doing what I did: reading the entire Keiron Gillen run of JIM as if it's a novel, a standalone.

And when you do that it's perfect.

The plot is so fantastical and great in a way that only epic fantasy can be. You know the sort of plot I'm talking about: the one where what everyone says or does is extremely important, even if it doesn't seem so at the time. Something that someone said in the first issue is incredibly important to the last. Something that happens in the fifth issue* and then is forgotten, shouldn't have been forgotten because it comes back.   

Basically, this entire run of Journey Into Mystery is perfect. I laughed and giggled at Loki's mischievous antics, for he truly is mischievous in this series. I was shocked and surprised by some of the twists and turns. And at several points, I cried** for kid Loki. And in the end, I raged against Kieron Gillen. 

Because he wrote a perfectly brilliant story, one that will haunt me for a while.

So read kid Loki's story in Journey Into Mystery, even if it's the only Marvel comic you read ever. You won't regret it. (For reading order, go to this link.)

*This is not a spoiler. I just picked a number at random. I am in no way saying that something in the fifth issue of JIM is particularly important. Though to be fair, something probably is. Because everything in JIM is important. 

**I only ever cried on the inside, because I rarely actually cry while reading. But this series got me close, man. It got me close. That being said, there were definitely times I literally laughed out loud. It was funny.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

ComiXology: The App That Taught Me How to Read Comics

Be prepared, readers. This post is going to come across as a glowing love letter to an App. But it's deserved. Because comiXology is amazing. So consider yourself warned.

You guys remember me lamenting this past summer about comics? How I didn't read them growing up? And now I wanted to read them but had no idea where to start? And then how I found one I liked?

Well one thing that I didn't want to admit to you guys, one of my big stumbling blocks to becoming a comic reader, was that I found the medium too hard to read.

That's right. Me. The girl who reads 500 words a minute. The girl who started reading Epic Fantasy at the age of 11. The girl who read Anna Karenina for fun in high schoolThe girl who has a masters degree in Rocket Science. Yes, that very same girl (me) was having trouble comprehending what was happening from pane to pane in a comic book.

It galled me. It really did. One of the first comics I tried to read was Angel: After the Fall. I figured that would be easiest, since I was already familiar with all of the characters.  But there I was: staring at the pictures, reading the word bubbles, and feeling like I was somehow doing it all out of order (which half the time I was).

It was frustrating. Were comic books going to be another fiction medium (like video games) that I would never be into because it was too hard? 

Too hard? How could comics be too hard? I was so embarrassed. I only admitted it to a few people. That when it came to comics, my reading comprehension was next to nil.

Part of my problem is that I just couldn't put the pictures and words together, not at the same time, not in a way that made sense. There was just too much going on in any one image. And then add on to that the fact that the entire page is covered in images of multiple panes. It was too much. Way too much.

And then I read Scott Pilgrim using the comiXology app. I picked Scott Pilgrim for several reasons, but the big ones were: (1) I was familiar with the story and characters and (2) it's in black and white and drawn in a more cartoonish manner. Both of these things working together helped me not get overloaded with imagery and to focus on the story. But I still couldn't look at an entire page. And I was still sometimes confused as to which speech bubble I was supposed to read next. Luckily, comiXology's guided view came to my rescue.

With guided view, I could look at one pane at a time. With a mere touch of my finger it would move on to the next pane, telling me in fact which pane was the next one to read. And in situations where there is a super large pane with multiple speech bubbles in it, it would tell me which speech bubbles to read first. It was amazing.

After Scott Pilgrim, I went on to read Young Avengers and The Unwritten, both using guided viewing. I was able to become comfortable with deciphering what was going on in a single pane of complex (color!) images. And I eventually figured out the correct order to read speech bubbles. (The answer: left to right BUT you have to read everything high before you read anything low. That's where I was getting confused. For some reason I wanted to read up then down then left right.) 

I went on a comic hiatus for a little bit due to various reasons. Mainly because I didn't want to reach the end of The Unwritten and there were no more Young Avengers comics. Then, the other week, it came to my attention (via my weekly comiXology newsletter/email) that they were starting a Young Avengers vol. 2. And that kid Loki would be in it.

I knew Loki was a kid now in the comics. I mean, a person can't be as obssessed with Loki as I am and not know that. I even knew about Journey Into Mystery, which followed his exploits. Heck, I'd even purchased Journey Into Mystery on my comiXology app. But for some reason, I hadn't read it yet. But now that my favorite Marvel character was going to intersect with my favorite Marvel superhero team, I knew I had to catch up. I had to read Journey Into Mystery.

So I paused my Wheel of Time re-read and hunkered down with Journey Into Mystery

You're going to get several posts in the near future about the awesomeness that is Keiron Gillen's Journey Into Mystery (JIM). But right now I want to talk about something else.

I started reading JIM in guided view. But the artwork was so beautiful, that one page I flicked back to the full page view. And then something happened.

I started reading the entire comic in full page view. I ended reading almost the entire series this way, only occasionally using the guided view to zoom in on pages where the writing was tiny.

I'd learned how to read comics. 

And really, it's all thanks to comiXology.

So if you're looking to get into comics and have a color e-reader of some sort or even just a computer, get comiXology. Their selection is amazing, and their entire system is fantastic.

Plus their customer support is stalkerish good. What do I mean by that? Well the other day I happened to tweet that I had forgotten both my user name and password to comiXology and I was slightly freaking out. (You see my iPad logs me in automatically, but I was trying to log in on my computer). I didn't add any hashtags or direct the tweet to any one person. ComiXology or its customer support (@cmxsupport) don't follow me. But somehow @cmxsupport saw my tweet and responded:

I've personally never experienced amazing customer support like that, with anything. So my hats off to your comiXology. You not only single-handedly taught me how to read comic books, but you are fantastic at your jobs.

I highly recommend the comiXology app for your tablet or phone. I recommend you getting a comiXology account so you can read comics on your computer. And I highly recommend you read Journey Into Mystery. But more on that on Wednesday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day!

So I've totally failed you this week. It's mostly because of work and the like, so I haven't been able to write up posts.

But today is Valentine's Day (my birthday!!!)! So here is a collection of LUV related links!!!!

And that's all I've got! So go have a happy V-Day! And eat some cake. Because it's my birthday.

Though icecream is a more than acceptable substitute, since I hate cake.

Which I know is not cool, but whatevs. I love ice cream. And that means I get awesome ice cream cake instead. :)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Week!

(So I ended up adding a new chapter to my WIP that involved a new kiss scene. If you'd like to check it out, go here. I'm entry #2).

Happy Valentine's Week! YAY! That means all posts this week are love themed! *blows kisses to everyone*

You may ask why I'm so happy about it being Valentine's Week. As a female with no significant other, I should be lamenting or something, right? Because you know, woe is me that I don't have a guy in my life or whatever. Except, there is one critical piece of information you don't have. And that is....

So boyfriend or no, I consider myself the sacred keeper of this holiday. Like a modern day Cupid, I like to spend my Valentine's Day handing out geeky Valentines (this year it's Avengers, last year it was Star Wars), lots of candy, and helping my guy friends out who are completely clueless on what to do for their girlfriends on this "fake holiday". (Seriously people, can we stop with the fake holiday business? Yes, companies use Valentine's Day as an opportunity to sell candy and flowers, and I'm sure restaurants live for this day, but Valentine's Day has been a long much longer than half of the other holiday's we celebrate. So if by a "made up holiday" you mean Valentine's Day was made up by the Romans, then yes, keep calling it that. Otherwise, yellow card for not knowing Valentine's Day's historical context).

Anyway, this week I turn 26!!! Which makes me solidly in my mid-twenties *gasp*. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm pretty sure last time I checked I was nineteen, but it'll be interesting to see where this next year of life takes me. I'm hoping this is the year Mandy gets an agent, but we'll see. Fingers crossed guys, fingers crossed.

For this week posts are going to be about love! Sort of. Rather it's going to be about how I come up with the love stories/interests for my fictional characters and stuff like that. So look forward to that!

If you're new to this post and interested in posts I've written about fictional love on V-Day weeks past, here are some links for you: my favorite fictional couples and my fictional crush!

Happy Valentine's Week! 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dealing with Critiques

(For those of you who missed it, my query and first 250 made it through the Bouncer round on Cupid! That means I'll get to be in the agent round! Squeeeee! I also got a lot of helpful comments on my kissing scene, which I'm already working to incorporate. So all in all, I think this was a good week for my writing. Now on today's planned post!)

At the beginning of January, I participated in a "Critique Partner Dating Service" on the writing site Miss Snark's First Victim. One of the things I've struggles with as a writer is finding really good critique partners. My friends are totally great when it comes to reading my stuff, and despite not being writers, usually have fairly awesome comments. However most of their comments tend to focus on story and characterization--which don't get me wrong, is a good thing--but sometimes I just really need help with writing. As in flow, syntax, diction, all that jazz. And sometimes it just helps to have someone who is at the same place in the crazy journey to publication that I am reading my stuff.

I've gotten one or two great crit partners from other events in the past and from other websites, but it hasn't been easy to find good critique partners. It's a balance.  You need someone who will be honest with you about what works and what doesn't but someone who also gets your story. 

Sometimes you can find someone who gives really good feedback and is a really good writer, but their entire feedback gives you the overall impression that they don't get your characters or your story. And that's ok. Not everyone is going to get every story. 

Anyway, due to trying to find my perfect Critique Partner match, I recently sent out my first chapter to a lot of writers, and I got a ton of feedback. Some of it was contradictory. Some of it I just downright disagreed with. Some of it was spot on and I can't believe I didn't realize that before. But when sifting through feedback, how do you make the call that something is "good feedback"? 

Well, feedback for me is generally a fine line. Sometimes something will make me angry like "HOW CAN THEY SAY THAT? THEY JUST DON'T GET IT!!!" but then after I cool off it makes perfect sense. Such a reaction was exactly how I felt when Krista suggested I cut the character of Mark, my secondary POV's awesome older brother. I didn't want to cut him. The scenes with Mark and Marilla are just perfect and amazing and exactly how a good brother/sister relationship works. Except...they were unnecessary. Certainly good character development, but they slowed down the pace even more. 

After I cooled down, I realized she was (of course) right. And in my second revision of the story I chopped out almost every scene with Mark in it. Now he has two scenes left. Neither really displays much about Mark as a person, other than good big brother and avid gamer, but they fit in the story, they forward the plot, and they don't slow down the pacing. Thus Mark still exists. Just in a much smaller but better for the story way.

Other times, critters comments don't make me angry so much as they confuse me. My story is such a perfect picture in my head that I don't get how they don't get what I'm trying to say. (Wait, did that sentence even make sense?) When I got my first chapter back from my first reader this time around, I had that same reaction to the two things she didn't get. I was like, "but it's so obvious!"

Then I got the exact same feedback from every reader who looked at my chapter. Two points that I thought were clear were apparently not clear at all to anyone. If that's not a sign saying "YOU NEED TO FIX THIS," I don't know what is. One problem was something I had to fix in the second paragraph of my text, which I'm sure you saw if you read this post and what was posted on Cupid. The other was piece of info that I needed to drop, but in a subtle non-info dumpy way. I think I did so successfully, and let's hope it leads to less confusion in the future.

Some feedback is obvious to me, and immediately gets integrated without a second thought. Other feedback is never going to jive with me because I feel it doesn't fit with the story. And that's ok too. You don't have to take every single piece of feedback given to you.

The key, I think, is to ask yourself "Does this make it a better story but NOT a different story?" Because there is a lot of feedback that is good, but doesn't quite jive with the heart of what I'm trying to tell. And I'm not going to make my story a different story. At it's heart THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL is always going to be a villain origin story. If it becomes anything else, it's a different story: the wrong story.

I'm telling a very specific story with THE DESCENT OF CHRIS CHAPPELL, and it's a story I want to tell. 

So that's how I look at feedback. Anyone else out there have different perspectives or helpful hints?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kissing Scene Competition Entry #28

(Note To My Regular Readers)
(Also link to my Bouncer Round 4 entry here

Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Word Count: 81,000

Setup: Seventeen-year-old Chris is on his second date with Marilla. He's wanted to kiss her before, but since this is the first time either has dated (and would be both of their first kiss) he's been agonizing over "the perfect moment."

After dinner we go to see a new science fiction movie that Marilla is really excited about. It’s so nice to be with a girl who gets excited by Star Wars and science fiction instead of chick flicks.

During the movie, we put up the armrest between us, and I put my arm around Marilla’s shoulder. She leans into my side, and it’s like she was always meant to be there. We’re two puzzle pieces that just fit together.

She whispers comments to me all throughout the movie. Some might find that annoying but her comments are clever and smart. I find myself laughing when no one else is because of something she said.

After the movie we walk through Atlantic Station, my arm still around her shoulders. We go back out to the Christmas Tree, where fake snow floats to the ground. It’s just soap bubbles, but Marilla giggles and twirls around in it like it’s the real stuff.

“This is closer to snow than anything we get in Orlando,” she laughs. I smile at her as she twirls faster and faster. She stops and loses her balance, falling forward. I catch her in my arms, and she laughs. She pulls back just enough to look up at me with a smile, her eyes glittering. I want to lean down and kiss her.

I hesitate. It just doesn’t seem right. Instead, I gently push her back, so she’s standing on her own two feet.

Marilla’s smile slides off of her face, and she looks up at me seriously. Then to my surprise, she grabs the front of my jacket, pulls me down towards her, and kisses me.

Her lips are soft and sweet. It’s my first kiss and a part of me worried I wouldn’t know what to do. But I find myself responding instinctually. I move my arms around her and pull her close, pressing her against me. She’s so soft and hard in all the right places.

She’s perfect.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Monday, Monday, Monday!

I have this new awesome critique partner, Jamie. You should visit her blog. Like me she's an aerospace engineer who aspires to be a published author, and we're at very similar places in our writing journey. Already she's proved invaluable on helping me with my query, first 50 pages, and synopsis (especially my synopsis, she's a synopsis wizard), but most relevantly to this post, her boldness in entering several recent blog competitions has inspired me. So because of her amazing example, I am in Cupid's Blind Speed Dating contest (which is actually a writing and not a romance contest).

I mention this because sometime on Monday my first 250 words and my query will be going up on Cupid's site. I will definitely link it here, especially since I've tweaked my query and first 250 words since I last posted it last Friday (once again due to the awesome feedback of my amazing critique partners, like Jamie). Update: Link to my entry at Cupid here! But I also mention all of this because there is a second part of Cupid's contest, and that is Kissing Scene Competition.

The Kissing Scene is working as a blog hop, so I'll be posting my Kissing Scene here on Monday. We're allowed to post 350 words plus a lead in entry. I don't consider myself amazing at writing kissing scenes, and my main narrator is a boy who's personality doesn't exactly lend him to writing odes about kissing, but regardless, I'm in the competition. So my scene will be posted here.

Because the Kissing Scene judging will run most of the week, there will not be a new post on Wednesday. But I will post on Friday. That's a promise. As in, I already wrote and scheduled it, so it's going to happen whether I want it to or not.

I hope you guys will read over both of my entries and let me know what you think. Publishing is a tough business and I appreciate all of your thoughts, whether you're a writer or a reader.

And wish me luck on this journey to publication. I think this manuscript might be "the one". At least, after many reads, revisions, and edits, I'm still in love with it and it's characters. And I think you might like it too.

So drop by on Monday and see my kissing scene. I'll also post the link to my query and first 250. 

And if you're a writer there is still room in Cupid's contest. So head over there and sign up!