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Farewelling 2011's Finest and Foreshadowing 2012's (Or, The Week Between Christmas And NYE Is So Incredibly Awkward For Me)



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I don't know whether it's recuperating after the mass amounts of shopping, wrapping, planning, cooking and eating associated with Christmas, or it's the contagious apathy associated with one year coming to a close and the inability to do anything substantial before the new one begins. Oh, and everyone's busy or on holidays. So what have I been doing?

Well, nothing. But, I have been vaguely considering the self-publishing route out of partial boredom and partial curiosity and partially because of the recent D Publishing opening (which I personally find too suspect to take seriously).

Anyway, I have two things to do tonight: summarise 2011 and look forward to 2012. And, if we have time, maybe considering the futile art of goal-making. (I'm terrible, trust me)

So, the best of twenty-eleven.


I only finished Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE the other day, and let me just say band-meet-wagon. It has been so long since I was just completely enthralled by a book, and it was the first of many which I finished under two days. That being said, Gretchen McNeil's POSSESS lived up to a premise that I held in very high regard for the entirety of its life wrapped in Batman paper before my birthday, and very much satisfied my inner exorcism fanatic.

And, the most coveted of twenty-twelve.




There's a variety in these and there's also a lot of similarity. It goes without saying that come September I will be dying to read the next Karou adventure by Laini Taylor. But we've got angels, curse workers, alchemists (and they better not rip off Fullmetal Alchemist or so help me god), time travellers, and Greek myths. Honourable mentions: CITY OF LOST SOULS by Cassandra Clare, INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows, CLOCKWORK PRINCESS by Cassandra Clare, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, and, well, Sarah J Maas' QUEEN OF GLASS. 2012 is shaping up to be pretty incredible.

Now, goals. More than ever I'm hesitant to make goals this year because it's HSC year. It's my last year of high school and I've already set my goals for that and they're pretty important. If I'm AWOL through the year, you'll know it most definitely is because of that.

But what do I want to achieve? I want to read fifty books this year, some of which will be school-related texts. I want to try and write once a week for the blog, or write up five posts once a month and schedule them. In regard to writing, I want to comb through the novel and do one last Big Revision and make it exactly how I've always wanted to but never really done, and then I want to query. Properly. 

I have had the most apathetic month, and now I am going to work until my hands bleed for ten months. Ten months until school is done and dusted, until I'm a free woman. I will work and write and study and you can all watch me slowly go mad. 

I hope everyone's had a brilliant year and I wish you all the best of luck for the year to come.

Oh, and guess what? This blog's been up for little over a year now. It feels much longer than that. This last year has just gone on forever, but really, it felt like absolutely nothing at all.

And the Winner Is...



2 comments

Congrats to Connie McAdams, who has chosen a copy of INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows for her Christmas present prize.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and I'm sorry that a glitch of some sort deleted some of the comments on the post. Don't worry, I still received all the entries despite the comment mix up.

Hope everyone had an amazing Christmas!

What's In a Name? (Or, The Masterful Art of Naming Characters)



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A friend recently recommended the BLUE BLOODS series (not some sort of novelisation of the cop show with Sergeant Lipton, unfortunately) to me. I scanned the blurb and found my processor not passing beyond two words. Schuyler Van Alen. Schuyler Van Alen. It took me a while to figure out how you're meant to pronounce that. Skew-ler van Halen. Yes, my mind read that as Van Halen. That, dear readers, is a teacher's worst nightmare in four syllables, or what I presume is four syllables. Who knows? I still haven't figured out how to say it. Is it Skyler? If so, why isn't it spelt Skyler?

Basically, if I can't figure out how to say a character's name within a fraction of a second of reading it, I am going to put the book onto the Gifts pile. (Yes, I actually have a pile of books which I give to people for their birthdays which have only been used to the fifth page.)

It isn't so bad for character names which I abhor. Usually, I'll suffer through a book if it's good, but I'll probably not go into the sequels. FALLEN's Luce, pronounced Lucy, infuriated me. Every time I saw her name I thought that it couldn't possibly be Lucy because I have nicknamed my friend Lucy as Luce. As in Loose. But that was the problem with it. There was no reason for her to be Luce, and every time I saw her name, I was drawn out of the story.

Personally, the more intricate the name, the more indie the spelling (or anti-spelling as I've come to call it), the more "normal" the character, and the more my regard of the author plummets. Surely, surely, they can create a vivid character without festooning them with a parade of character! preceding them every time they're mentioned.

If you're going to use superfluous names or spelling, I want a reason. I really do. Sometimes mundane names can be great, they can also hold metaphors and subtext. Flamboyant names make me think that you have no idea how to characterise and you're just throwing something wacky out there to make me remember your protagonist. That is, if you're set in "our world", in our time, in somewhere like New York. In that setting, when everyone is called Langford van Cassel den Rayne, I can't go on.

I know that character names can hold references and meanings. I know that. I'd rather something atmospheric for each character, a la JK Rowling. Think about it. Draco and Snape, serpentine, fitting for an antagonist. Hermione, Shakespearean, bookish. Dumbledore, enchanting and childish, almost in a similar strain to Santa. If you can go subtler than that, do it. Names can be evocative. Think Nigel, a man with a nasally voice and a fondness for tweed, someone Stanley Tucci would play with flair. Or, Trudy, a rubenesque red-haired woman. Or even Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike, all sharp consonants, reflecting someone curt, tough and even mysterious.

I think that a name says more about a character's household than it does about the character themselves. I mean, the parents name the child, right? The only time a name says something about the character is when they've renamed themselves. For instance, Gwendoliana was named because her mother dreamed of a sinewy, prima ballerina daughter, but in reality, she's a rugby player who chews tobacco and smokes two packs a day. In this name, there's conflict. Ergo, Gwendoliana is a much better fit than, say,  Shannon or Betty.

Oh, and please, for the love of God, just pay attention to ethnicities and cultures. If someone is Russian, then do your research and look into the naming intricacies of the Russians and all the wacky diminutives that are factors in that. And whacking a Chen on the end of an Asian character's name is just lazy. Seriously.

Even when it comes to fantasy names, take a leaf out of Tolkien's book. You've got hobbits and even then, Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry are all simple names. Boromir and Faramir are humans, and their names correlate. Arwen, Legolas, Galadriel, Elrond - all similar sounding and majestic names. I just come up with easy shortcuts for names with apostrophes in them and funny phonetic letters, like graves and other accents.

So, what are your thoughts?

How strongly do you react to character names? Do you prefer plain names over flamboyant ones? Or do you think that strange names up the escapism appeal?

Don't I Look Darling In Red? (Or, HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY)



5 comments

This Christmas, I'm celebrating YA in a big way. Despite our differences, YA has brought me some great characters, some great plots, and writing and all-round inspiration. I definitely have some favourites or books I'm dying to read and for the season of giving, I want to share with you. I'll be giving away a book, some are pre-orders, current releases, sequels, from the list below. 

Go on, pick one. Any one.








Truthfully, that list is more like a recommendations list. Really, any book that you want, be it a pre-order, current release, sequel or whatever, I'm willing to hear whatever it is that you're dying to read this holidays.

Now, just some details.
  1. This giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository delivers to you.
  2. You must be a follower of this blog.
  3. You must comment below with a book you'd like to receive or give away this Christmas.
  4. You must be at least 13+ to enter or have your parent email me with permission.
  5. One entry per person.
  6. Open until midnight Australian EST on December 24.
If you have any queries at all, feel free to email me.
nnewcombe(at)hotmail(dot)com

Good luck!




    All You Need Is Love (Or, Are Love Interests Mandatory?)



    10 comments

    Okay, story time.

    In July, I attended the Harry Potter midnight session for Deathly Hallows Part 2 with a crowd who were dressed for the occasion, had brought chants, cutouts and books with them. Who, for the hour beforehand were prepping themselves for tears, laughter and the overwhelming reaction to the very end of these annual outings. We laughed through Hermione as Bellatrix, bawled through Fred's deathbed, sniffled through the Resurrection Stone scene, and rolled around in our seats laughing when Voldemort hugged Draco. But do you know what had half of the audience on their feet, the audience shrieking with cheers and laughter and drowned-out jokes? The kiss. Ron and Hermione's kiss.

    I am not exaggerating.

    It was, debatably, the most anticipated event of the entire film series.

    When it comes to YA, love interests and the baiting of a potential couple to the readers is basically what drives our trends and our most popular books. And you can argue the opposite as much as you want, but you know that you have slugged through the most banal of YA because of a couple. I have mine. Rose and Dimitri, which soon turned into Rose and Adrian, from Richelle Mead's VAMPIRE ACADEMY. I did, however, give up during book three and read the spoilers instead.

    It doesn't even have to be explicit for readers to latch on. Think about some of the fandoms on Tumblr.com. Even yourself. You've paired people together who were never the canon couples, who would never be drawn to each other in the work. And not just in YA. Think about Sherlock and Watson, or Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, or Stefan Salvatore and Caroline Forbes, or Draco and Hermione.

    There's a lot of talk about the hard sell of YA without a slither of romance, and the absurdity of that. I know there is a lot of tears shed and opinions voiced on the matter, so I'm going to offer mine. Opinion that is, not tears.

    The truth is that romance ups the escapism appeal of a book. It helps to draw you into the world and the plot, because not only do you have this adventure, but you get to spend the whole thing with your ideal so-and-so. I think that's a pretty universal sentiment.

    But with YA, your audience is largely hormonal teenage girls who are lusting after the boy who catches their bus and this-and-that Hollywood star. They want to watch movies about sex and kissing. They want to watch TV shows about sex and kissing. It's pretty safe to assume that they also want to read books about sex and kissing.

    That isn't to say you need to stretch your novel to accommodate for such a plot line. Write your book the way it needs to be written. During revisions you can keep that possibility in mind when you're reworking and making the plot more fluid. But it's not always necessary, and some YA authors have ruined potentially incredible books with this so-called near-requirement.

    For instance, POSSESS by Gretchen McNeil. I love Bridget, the protagonist, and I know that she needed some sort of home life away from the exorcising and suchness, but her love interest was not even remotely necessary. I would have been much more interested in further investigation into her father and a possible legacy he had with her exorcisms.

    I'm not saying that every YA has romance at it's core. If romance drives your story, such is the case with TWILIGHT, then you're going to have a very banal soap-operaish series of conflicts. Romance should be an afterthought, a back seat on an adventure. Think Doctor Who. The adventures and conflicts of the Doctor and his companion are the forefront of the series, and occasionally, there's an inkling of a romance (Rose and the Doctor, for example).

    There was a point to this post.

    So, I'd really like to hear your opinion on this. Have you discovered any well-done romance subplots in YA lately? How inclined are you to keep with a book if you're rooting for a couple? Have you got any inkling of romance in your own work?

    You Spin Me Right Round, Baby, Right Round (Or, Old Idea, New Twist)



    4 comments
    This is going to be me semi-ranting and mostly advising. Which is nothing new on this blog, as you all know.

    Particularly with YA, we are a little obsessive with our trends. We latch on to them and then people get tired and then quality downgrades with mass production within those trends and then we find something else and it all starts all over again. That, or we have tropes so deeply ingrained in us that they just crop up and we can do nothing else but throw up our hands and hopelessly theorise about what we could have done to avoid this.

    Everyone tries to put something fresh on old plots, or common plots, and make them work and brilliant by their own standards. But, especially with these YA trends, sometimes it's the core idea which traps us writers and inhibits our ability to see beyond the seeming conventionalities of said trend.

    Here's one. Let's see if you can name it.

    A seemingly normal girl encounters a mysterious, gorgeous boy who sucks her into a supernatural plot which endangers her life but entwines her fate further with his when threatening elements converge on her town-slash-city.

    There is a whole universe full of titles you could be throwing at me right now.

    TWILIGHT is probably the most common.

    Or, even HUSH HUSH. Or, VAMPIRE DIARIES. Or FALLEN.

    But, no.

    CITY OF BONES.

    While they have similar, even identical, elements in common, each of those other books are different from one another. But CITY OF BONES is almost intrinsically different. Don't get me wrong, it has its problems and it borrows heavily from a number of trends and moulds. The girl meets supernatural boy is just its premise, not its story. It goes much deeper than that, and that is exactly what separates it from TWILIGHT.


    Bella is passive, and doesn't have direction beyond the premise. Clary's journey is sparked by the premise and unfolds into a deeply personal endeavour on her part, where she actively engages in the conflict and sways it back and forth.

    Do another one yourself. Like, the dark lord concept with only a plucky hero to face him. What could that be? HARRY POTTER? ERAGON? What?

    If you're worried about this, you need to think beyond the premise. Beyond the book.

    You need to isolate the exact premise, figure out the conventional chronology of plot points. Once you've done that, if you've cross-checked a couple examples and made your list, you need to start brainstorming what isn't on that list.

    Character: is there one who can be involved who is completely different to those previous? What traits haven't been used yet? Why do they have to only be a century old, why not millennia, or why not a newborn who's only a few decades ahead of their physical age? Why do they have to be gorgeous and charismatic? Why not overly intelligent or socially stilted?

    Setting: is there somewhere more fitting for your story? Would an angel encounter be more fitting in Vatican City? Or in an Orthodox community somewhere in Eastern Europe? Or even in a Catholic school somewhere in Asia or Africa or South America? Can it be in the past or the future? (And by past I don't necessarily mean the 1800s, it could be the 60s!) Does it have to be in a city or a small town? Why not a small city or a town with heavy tourism traffic?

    Perspective: are you telling the story from the right perspective? Should it be from the human or the supernatural side? Or should it be a rebel against a dystopian government and not a government official struggling with their beliefs in this conflict?

    Genre: could you meld genres here? Could you bring horror elements into a demonic story? Could you combine a murder mystery with ghosts, like Maureen Johnson?

    As far as tropes go, you could turn things on their head, or challenge do's and do not's. Could you look at tropes that belong in other genres or other trends and explore that? Could you not have an uprising against an oppressive vampire governing-body as your main plot, with your naive heroine thrown in at the eleventh hour?

    We've all done it: click out of a tab in frustration because why didn't we think of that spin on that idea. People always find ways of doing it, and there is no reason why we can't challenge the YA audience to spread the reach of its trends with our spins and concoctions.

    Have you ever taken a trunk novel out with the intention of reviving it with a spin? Have you ever stepped back from your novel and fundamentally changed its concept and plot? Have you seen books where the author has tried and abandoned their attempt to subvert conventions? 

    Love At First Chapter (Or, The Different Ways Different Books Have Kept Me Reading)



    2 comments
    Recently, I've been addressing the beginning of my novel, finding that it's almost like dragging two semi-trailers through the snow with one of those elastic leashes that parents use for their children. So, I did what I always do whenever I find myself disenchanted by my capacity to form words, or incapacity therein - I turned to my bookshelf.

    And what did I find there? I realised there are a few that snatched my interest basically from the get-go.

    You may not have heard of JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey, but it's a cosy Australian mystery set in the 1960s, not technically YA, but starring a teenager. It's rather humble and deeply character-driven, with a sense of precociousness, but a desperate, childish ignorance and desire for understanding.

    The novel opens with Charlie, our protagonist, who is visited in the middle of the night by the mixed-race Jasper Jones at his window. Jasper takes him out into the bushland surrounding their town, to his "spot", but also where Charlie is roped into a discovery. Well, a murder, but not committed by Jasper. And Charlie has to help hide the body, and keep the secret by day whilst venturing out at night with Jasper to find the killer. It's definitely intriguing.

    But those characters. God, those characters. Endearing, flawed people. Young people, but so multifaceted that I wanted to watch their actions, watch how their lives and this discovery would entwine and even come to define them. One was clever but panicked, another embittered and wisened. Even eager and dismissive of barriers.

    If you're writing a cosy novel, particularly with a controversial or conspiratorial element like murder and intrigue, and you've cast an everyman as your protagonist, I would definitely recommend you pick this up. Silvey handles the line between routine and plot expertly and the pacing is near perfect.

    The next is not so much character-driven as it is concept-driven. That isn't a bad thing, either. Definitely not! It is really hard, and I mean really hard, to form any of substance from concept alone. You know the kind, and it really resonates with everyone in a different way, that makes you just stop and think Shit, I need to find more of this. What am I going to do when I finish? I wonder if there are films like this too. Maybe I could write a novel, or a short story, about this. Maybe there are reference texts on sale. For me, Gretchen McNeil's POSSESS was exactly that.

    It's about a teenage exorcist, and it is clever and intriguing and filled with that air of awesome that watching Catholic-based supernatural films brings. Kind of like the fifth season of Supernatural. Well, ish. POSSESS began with the end of Latin class, where Bridget, our protagonist, is given a note. She meets her mentor, a priest, at a house after school where she then helps perform an exorcism on a woman.

    POSSESS fought and fought against the paranormal YA stereotypes all the way through and it kept pushing them back with this superior, developing concept. Unlike a lot of demon or angel YA, it embraced its religious roots and decided to use the conspiracy within them to propel it forward. It's the fact that it snatches the reader by the concept in the beginning and holds it that makes it so impressive.

    If you're aiming toward a strong conceptual presence in your novel, or if you have a hearty concept that plays a big role, this is a great example to read.

    This next one, admittedly, is not so much about a beginning as much as my gushing over what I still regard as one of the finest plot-crafting I have ever witnessed. Rowling's HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE is almost entirely plot-driven and this here book is one of the reasons I tip my metaphoric hat to her always.

    You can argue with my until you're blue, but not matter what Harry could have done, Barty Crouch Jr. had his plan so intricately tied around the boy's neck that he was always going to end up in that graveyard. Always. That core of suspicion and good vs. evil is so inherent in this novel, and Rowling, not so much in the rest of the series, manages her reveals and her intrigues so expertly that you're dying to know what the hell is going on. Dying. Every scene is imperative to the plot, and it all forms in a noose that hangs you and Harry in that final revelation that leaves you wondering how the bloody hell she managed to do that without you noticing.

    I always preach this as my go-to novel for plot-driven works whenever anyone asks for a reference. It doesn't matter if you haven't read the rest of the series, if you have an intricate plot or a plot-driven novel, this is a must-read. This definitely resonates with me.

    So, we know there are a lot of ways to hook your reader in those first ten or so pages, whether it be with a character voice or a concept or a bear-trap of a plot. Personally, I focus and am able to nitpick on plot because my work is plot-heavy, really, just plot-heavy.

    Is your work character, concept or plot driven? Do you have multiple works you turn to for reference or as inspiration? What's an element that you find hooks you a lot? How often do you entwine character and plot focus?

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