"In 900 Years of Time and Space, I've Never Met Anyone Who Wasn't Important Before" (Problem: Boring Lead, Riveting Supporting Cast)

I received an email the other day from a reader (who wanted to remain anonymous in this post - but we'll call her Sarah) who told me that she was having trouble getting into her protagonist, despite this being her most prominent POV.
She is dynamic as many Young Adult characters are, but at the beginning she's anxious and self-doubting because she's in that adolescent phase when you realise everything you know about yourself is completely wrong and you're just starting to discover who you REALLY are. There's not much that makes her like me (or am I kidding myself?) even though I've been in the same position as her. Well maybe not exactly since this is YA SF, but as far as her emotional state goes, I've been through that. But I just feel like she should've developed more by now, and she still feels like a faceless stock character.

Bildungsroman is the nature of YA above all, and that relatable trait for the protagonist is necessary. To some extent, there is a universal adolescent experience, and YA is a form of escapism that addresses or even helps the overcoming of this phase and its anxiousness and doubt with the reader. The prominent thread is the realisation of what you can do and who you are or what you like, which I think is a main factor in the popularity of love triangles - choosing the self that you want to be and all that.

Sarah went on to say:
I never intended to insert myself into the story or anything like that, don't worry! I do see similarities, but I guess I don't or can't understand her as well as I could have three years ago. I'm really flexible over what I can do next, but there's also a lot I would have to keep if I start changing her around because the whole idea of the story is her shift from who she was into who she learns she is from the events of the story. I just need a way to get into her better or make her more human.

First of all, when people email me, I always make apparent that by no means am I telling you what to do. Everyone has a different approach to characterisation, everyone has different experiences they're drawing from, everyone has their process.

Second of all, people need to stop assuming that author insertion is a cardinal sin. It isn't! Not at all! I am a BIG believer in drawing from your experiences and your emotional/psychological understanding of adolescence (and the world, for that matter) in crafting POV and characters and plot. For example, in my adolescence, I made the long journey of realisation and confidence from self-hating doormat to leader/girl on bloody fire.

That being said, there are a number of options in Sarah's situation.
  1. She could scrap the protagonist completely and promote a secondary character that might be similar to the protagonist or just enthralling generally. 
  2. Likewise, she could combine said secondary character with the protagonist, or switch their personalities.
  3. She could give her protagonist a chance to shine - not just in terms of the story, but in terms of her own relationship with the character. Engaging in writing exercises can strengthen the author-protagonist bond, allow you to understand them better, to accustom yourself to their voice and their situation. 
  4. Develop the protagonist. Try and determine what it is about the secondary characters that make them so much more intriguing. Are they just more well-developed? Do they have better thought-out backstories? Are they more involved than your protagonist? Are their stakes higher? Figure out what it is that separates them, and then decide what you're going to do to your protagonist.
So, does the term "ordinary teen girl" summarise your protagonist almost completely, maybe excepting one flaw or trait? You need to rework your thinking. Everyone is ordinary, and no one is ordinary.

Here's another way to think about it and it's a lesson from Doctor Who.

Just look at those characters, even if you're unfamiliar with the show. Look at them. They are completely different - in appearance, demeanour, backstory, plot and growth - and they are all extraordinary. Don't worry if your character doesn't fit the typical YA protagonist mould - what is important above all is that your protagonist is a character, they're a person with all the little bits that make up a person.

If all else fails, take a note from One Direction and that Little Things song.

What do you guys think? Tell me about your troublesome protagonists, how you've overcome beige characters with a whole range of bright colours around them. What kind of protagonist do you want to read? Who's the most interesting character you've encountered in YA?

Your Workspace is All Wrong (And What's Essential to Boost Productivity)

The way we writers work is peculiar, and actually, particular. Though I've found that one method for one novels doesn't always suit another novel. Some of us are fully digitised, others still handwrite half of their work, and many of us are an amalgam in between. 

Me? I like to outline with tangible plot points, create and reshuffle, and I do this with post it notes on cork boards. I can keep track of pacing, interlocked story lines and character frequency. I can sketch landscapes and statues therein. But when it comes to writing, it has to be in Word.

But today, I want to talk about healthy creative environments.

So, at the moment, I'm on the floor in my living room, more from my uncanny ability to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time and the fact that I just spent the better part of a year extricated from my family in HSC mode (and I'm attempting to quash complaints that they never see me despite my nearly always being home). That, and the wifi conks out on my end of the house and it's infuriating.

I've never been one to work well outside my house. Seriously. I can't study in libraries, I can't write in coffee shops or at the beach. I don't even work that well on my balcony.

But now, I'm stuck here. To the right: 50-inch plasma TV with Blu-ray surround sound. To the left: parents who are slightly deaf and thus turn aforementioned TV up very loud. Behind those boards: the kitchen, where every appliance is like thunder and mortar rounds when anyone operates them.

Solution: move. But where?

So, what exactly are the essentials

You have to have physical comfort, namely a sitting positing that isn't distracting or painful or pins-and-needles-inducing, loose and preferably soft clothes, and temperature control. Not to mention light. I like a well-lit but not fluorescent room.

Noise within your threshold of background sound, which varies person to person. I actually like sound when I need to concentrate, and that's become more soundtracks than anything else lately. My most productive time is at night, when everyone's gone to bed, and I can leave the TV on at a normal volume, blend Hans Zimmer into it, and talk to myself and my proverbial brain beast that roams freely around the living room. 

Tools within reach or already set up, be it your laptop charger, hard drive, textbooks, folders of research and plotting. Could you imagine running out of battery in the middle of the Natasha/Loki interrogation of The Avengers

Sing it with me: SUUUUUUSTENANCE! Water or tea or coffee, jubes or crisps or apples. From many weeks of constant studying, I'll tell you this: above all, leaving your post in search of food or drink is THE ULTIMATE PROCRASTINATION TOOL. I don't know why that was capitalised. 

You know what I'm about to do?

Well, clean my room primarily (because clearly to show people my party tricks in the backyard, my room at the front of the house has to be impeccable), but also relocate myself to my larger-than-Hulk desk. I've already boxed all of my school work, so it's just a matter of setting up some cork boards and figuring out how to boost my wifi signal. 

But I'd like to hear from you guys. Where do you work best? Did it take you a while to find it, or was it somehow forced on you? Do you need your environment to tie directly to the environment you're writing about? Any tips for making a perfect workspace?

Review: Unravelling by Elizabeth Norris

Series: Unravelling #1
Release date: June 2012
Publisher: Harpercollin's Children's Books
Pages: 445
Source: Berkelouw Books

Leaving the beach, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit head on by a pickup truck.

And killed.

Then Ben Michaels, resident stoner, is leaning over her. And even though it isn’t possible, she knows Ben somehow brought her back to life…

Meanwhile, Janelle’s father, a special agent for the FBI, starts working on a case that seems strangely connected to Ben. Digging in his files, Janelle finds a mysterious device – one that seems to be counting down to something that will happen in 23 days and 10 hours time.

That something? It might just be the end of the world. And if Janelle wants to stop it, she’s going to need to uncover Ben’s secrets – and keep from falling in love with him in the process…

It's described as 24 meets X-Files and as a blockbuster, but that is seriously underestimating the sheer awesomesauce of this debut from Elizabeth Norris. Andrea Cremer is a little closer, likening it to if Veronica Mars snatched a case from Mulder and Scully. The thing is this: from the synopsis, this doesn't really seem like a scifi, but it actually, brilliantly is. It's also a little pre-apocalyptic, I suppose. Norris expertly immerses you into a character that lets you see the "offness" of the goings on around her and concerning her, which escalates and grows in an addictive way until BAM - scifi glory and bamf.

Norris finds a perfect mesh of internal and external conflict, and a voice in our protagonist, Janelle, that is intelligent, passionate and resonating. Her inner strength, her loyalty and preoccupation with her family - the connections and characterisation we experience through Janelle makes the fluctuations of Joss-Whedon-kill-your-darlings really effective (and tearjerking).

I read the last 250+ pages after midnight - I thought I was going to do a couple chapters, but when this books kicks on the turn, it kicks. It is intense. Like, intense. The plot line is gripping, there is an absence of a love triangle, and an act of logic and selflessness to close. It's easy to engage with Janelle, and for once, there was a proper and respectable use of "fuck" that effectively characterised a supporting character.

While at times, the dialogue is corny and a bit repetitive, and the pop culture references a little on the shallow side, the book is fast-paced and captures the breathlessness of a teenager trying to make sense of a world crumbling around them, literally and figuratively. And there are a few red herrings, which I always applaud, because despite the formulaic twists and structure of Unravelling, there was a final turn at the climax that got me.

Overall, Norris has an understated, flowing style of writing that captures you, even if you've put the book down for a day. For authors looking to see examples of well-paced YA with innovative strands of science fiction/action/fantasy/thriller/whatever, this is a must-read. And honestly, I'm just generally recommending this one.

Have we seen the end of action-oriented YA?


Well, have we?

A lot of writers struggle with balancing action and suspense with realistic development and emotion. I've received a couple emails about concerns that in writing physical struggles at the forefront, internal conflict plays second fiddle. 

In many ways, characters vs. plot or even the conflict in pleasing your readers vs. pleasing yourself.

We get caught up in all the little opinions - agents condemn certain features and talk about the importance of "emotion" and issues relevant to the YA audience, and critics on sites like Goodreads can be absolutely brutal about their preferences. We as authors have a tendency to reconsider our choices and our work in their desire to be relevant and pleasing and, well, good.

But it's all about balance.

And I do mean action-oriented and not action-packed

All plots have a sense of urgency to them, and that pacing is absolutely vital. It's important not to forgo that in the mistaken belief that it's action-action. With action-oriented YA, growth doesn't become irrelevant, the character arc is a bonus, not the point. I don't know about you, but I crave pure action. As much as internalised dialogue and reflection has its place, I very much prefer to witness a character's arc through their finding out a way to deal the madness that is thrown at them.

This is where I tell you that Bella should've figured a way to overcome her situation and thus discover her ability to function and flourish independent of a significant other. Much as Katniss probably should have transcended her selfish struggle between martyrdom as the mockingjay and her desires.

But above all, you need to write the book you want to write.

Kiersten White recently did a post on the most sought-after information in our industry, the so-called Secret to Getting Published. And her advice was "Write the best book you can. Write it as best as you can". And you know what? You can't do that if you're trying to please everyone but the person who is in an extended relationship with the story. If you're going to eat, breathe and sleep with this thing, you have to not only like it, you have to love it. And if you're sacrificing everything you want and love in a story to do that, it's not going to go anywhere.

And again, I'll stress that it's all about balance.

Just like emotional and descriptive scenes, action scenes tend to get repetitive. And I think this is where the adventure and thriller novels have lost readers' faith. You can't constantly rehash the same conversation without rubbing people up the wrong way, just like you can't apply cinematic storytelling to all of your action sequences. 
Films are not the same as novels. As someone who makes both, I can honestly tell you that if you try to translate one into the other, you're going to lose a certain je nais sais quoi. And you'll bore your reader. Can you imagine reading Rosie Huntington-Whitely screaming "SAAAAAAM" every ten pages, separated by the same enormous robots jeering at one another and destroying the city a la Godzilla? No? Well, neither can your reader. And that's why those cinematic adrenaline rushes don't satisfy your reader - it just makes them want to hurl your book across the room with significant force.

Action and suspense and thrill will only incite actual adrenaline if your reader feels the stakes are relevant, if they care about the stakes. And in YA, it's all about how your audience is struggling for their identity. Your novel has to be an outlet for them. They need the thrill of watching people hunt demons and fall in love, or figure out conspiracy in the middle of a space opera, or fend off spiders and neo-Nazis while climbing to the centre of the Earth.

We haven't seen the end of action-oriented stories in YA. Not at all. But it's important that we see how inexorably it's entwined with how our characters discover their sense of worth.

How about you? Please yourself or please your future readers? How do you find the balance between character growth and action-oriented storytelling?

The Thursday Thrill!


Warning: this post will include a lot of celebratory gifs. Like, a lot.

I'm hyperactive and confused and exhausted and sore and hungry and just - I'm finished. The HSC. High school. I'm finished. As of 2 o'clock this afternoon. My final exam on Art Criticism and History was finished.

And so, I'm also back.

To commemorate this occasion, I thought I'd make a post of all the things that are absolutely thrilling me about YA and publishing and reading and even my own writing that I am now free to catch up on. (Ugh, free. I love that word.) Anyway, all the things to come!

Releases of very late 2012 and of 2013:

First and foremost: I just ordered Days of Blood and Starlight and omfgwhateven I have to wait three weeks until I can read it but it's worth it and aksf;akhjsfljasbfa.snf;     ...Basically.

In my catch up searching, I very quickly (and excitedly) came across Antigoddess on Goodreads, the upcoming offering from Kendare Blake (of Anna Dressed In Blood fame, which admittedly, I haven't read). But oh my goodness it looks scrumptious! It's a new Greek god trilogy slated for September 2013. Here be the omfg worthy synopsis:

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

Good, right? Ooph, my heart. September, y u so far away?

What else have I got? Well, have you heard of Victoria Schwab's The Archived? If you haven't, well, all I can do is 1) Goodreads, and 2) the first line of the synopsis is: Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Yeah, I know. Amazeballs.

And have you come across this debutante: April Genevieve Tucholke? Her YA debut Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea looks absolutely fantastic! Have a look on Goodreads and on April's site. It's all the devil personified in one of those droopy-eyed, swoon-worthy boys who doze in the sun and it's all gothic horror and my goodness! Could I be more excited?


D-Craig and Ben Whishaw in Skyfall alone is enough to make me go aksng;kasngajsbg.jkasnfnaklsnf (I know, this post isn't turning out to be particularly coherent, huh?) But I've already told my family I'll be living at the movie theatre. There's Red Dawn, Pitch Perfect, Rise of the Guardians, the Hobbit, Gangster Squad, Django Unchained, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

And please, someone tell me they're watching Arrow so I can gush with them. Stephen Amell, I want to rub my face on your face is fantastic as Ollie Queen. I'm loving this show, its acting, its writing - it is just generally very, very good. And besides, DC superheroes? You can't go wrong.


I can feel the rust on my writing folders, it's been so long since I was actually working on them. I'm undertaking Nanowrimo, as I usually do, and integrating aspects of my old work into a new one: The Girl in Jupiter's Tomb.

I feel like I've developed a fuller perspective over the last six months, which I hope will translate into my writing. The work I've done with short stories in particular has really made me appreciate the economy of language and lyricism of storytelling. Who knows? Maybe I'll craft a version of this story that I can fall in love with.

Now over to you.

What's been going on with you guys lately? Any good reads or views? How's your writing going?

I'll Soon Be Seeing You: Pripyat, Ukraine (The Dead City)


Welcome to the I'll Soon Be Seeing You series, inspired by the Cat Stevens song Katmandu and the talented atmosphere of photographers across the globe. We as creative spirits - writers, filmmakers, artists and consumers of stories - find inspiration in various settings. Laini Taylor found Prague, Leigh Bardugo found Russia - there's London, Paris, New York, Tokyo. So I'll be exploring a range of landscapes, both conventional and not so much, to give you some ideas about your settings. 

Припять, Украина (Pripyat, Ukraine)

April 26, 1986: an accident at a nuclear power plant destroyed one of the USSR's young and prosperous cities. Life does exist, but in a different form - in graffiti. Photographer Alex Cheban visited the city a few years ago, and today's inspiration set are some of his photos (and here there are more).

And, ladies and gents, a video!

So guys, what do you think of Pripyat? What's a place you've been Googling lately for inspiration?

Meagan Spooner is My Homeboy (Or, nindogs presents the debut YA author of SKYLARK)

I have always dreamed, since I was a wee lad, that one day I would have the pleasure of meeting a delightfully spunky individual who might become my homeboy. I have met said individual.

Her name is Meagan, and she is a debut author.

Meagan Spooner's novel, Skylark, is due for release August 1, and as a part of her imaginarium blog tour, this is but a chipper pit stop to change one's tyres, etc.

I am seriously psyched for this novel's release. Actually. Truthfully. Honestly. Completely. Totally. And here's why.

Vis in magia, in vita vi.
In magic there is power, and in power, life.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city.

Lark did not expect to become the City's power supply.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she's ever known...or face a fate more unimaginable than death.

Absolutely smashing, right? So, without further ado:

Hi, Meagan! Skylark, your upcoming debut, sounds incredible! What can we expect from it?

Thank you! I've had a really great team of people designing the cover, the trailer, the jacket copy. They all really fit with the story well.

Skylark is about a girl who wants nothing more than to fit in—she lives in a world where fitting in is the ultimate expression of adulthood and success. But she’s different, and always has been, and when she’s finally offered the chance to become a fully adult member of her city, she becomes an outcast instead. She flees into a world full of darkness and shadow, but also containing a kind of beauty and hope she never would’ve found had she stayed within the walls of her city. I think on the one hand it’s a dark story—full of fear and uncertainty and, of course, a generous handful of crazy twists. But I think it’s also a hopeful story, too. It’s about learning to have strength, because none of us are born with it. As one reviewer said recently, “stuff has to happen to make you steel".

Simply from the synopses of Skylark and your 2013 release, These Broken Stars, it's clear you've got an enviable imagination. Where do these ideas come from? You don't snack on children while they sleep or anything?

Only when I have writer’s block! ;) It’s funny, this ends up being a question writers get a lot, and I think it’s because people want there to be a magical secret way to come up with story ideas. But I honestly think Edison’s words of wisdom hold true here—that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. (Though I snort to call it genius.) Everyone has random thoughts here and there—writers are the ones who chase those random thoughts down, probe into them, ask the who/what/where/when/why/how of those strange ideas. The idea for Skylark came from a random thought while listening to NPR: what if we could discover magic, and solve the energy crisis that way? But the book came from deciding consciously to pursue that thread, and add other threads, and keep adding until the fabric of the story began to come together.

Let's hear about your origin story, the Cliff Notes on Meagan if you will. Did you always want to be a writer, or how did you get into writing?

I've wanted to be a published writer since I was four. It was the moment I realized that books came from real people—that their imaginations had created something that was sweeping me away—that I was hooked. It was later, when I was about 9 or 10, that I really started writing as opposed to just telling people stories verbally. I wrote all through high school, and while I desperately wanted to be published, I never pursued it—in equal parts because I wasn’t ready, and because I half-expected someone to just discover my awesomeness and beg to publish me. (HAH!) After going to college and then working for a while at a desk job, I pretty much woke up in the middle of the night one night and said “Okay, it’s time.” So I quit, went to a workshop, learned about revision and craft, moved to Australia for a year, wrote my book, got an agent, and then got a book deal. I went at it very consciously and methodically—I made up my mind when I was ready.

Tell me about your very, very first story.

I told a lot of stories orally as a child, and I don’t remember those. The first actual story that I remember writing and caring about was when I was seven or eight, and it was about a marine biologist living by the sea and hearing mermaids calling to her in the night. It was an oddly dark story for a child to write (though perhaps not surprising for me, given what I write now). The mermaids were not the kind, pretty, Disney Little Mermaid creatures. It was very much like Dracula—my protagonist was very slowly dying, and a mermaid was slowly taking her place… each night she lost a little more of what made her human. I think about that story a lot—maybe some day I’ll resurrect it and rewrite it as an adult. I like mermaids better as dark, twisted creatures. (Hell, I like pretty much every mythical creature better dark!)

What crucial advice did you learn between this story and Skylark?

STICK TO IT. In all honesty, one of the biggest differences between published writers and unpublished writers is that published writers just didn’t give up. Stories almost never come easily to me the whole way through—I’ll write the first 10-15k in a storm of inspiration and glee and then I get a little bored, or I think of a new idea, or I decide I want to take up ice fishing. The hard part is ignoring all those other things, and sticking with the story. You have to work on it and invest in it if you want it to go anywhere good.

Your next release was co-authored. What can you tell us about that experience in comparison to writing Skylark on your own? And if you could co-author with any writer, living or dead, famous or unknown, who would it be?

Honestly,if I could pick anyone alive or dead, it’d probably still be my co-author, Amie Kaufman. There are so many authors I’ve love to work with, but I just don’t think I could do the whole thing, from inception to publication, with anyone but her. We’ve known each other a long time, and we’re so close that we literally do finish each other’s sentences and read each other’s minds. And as writers, we have different styles—we each bring something different to the table. Amie is incredibly clever and funny, and she’s able to get that into our stories and bring a lightness that makes the darker moments far more pronounced. Whereas she’s not as willing to do terrible things to our protagonists as I am, so I can bring that darkness that cuts the humour.

Show us a picture of your workspace.

Overall, my workspace is boring. Dual monitors, for easy editing and looking between two manuscripts (I highly recommend this!). Can of soda. Water. Phone. Sharpies. Little speak-no-evil monkey sitting on my monitor. But the real important part of my workspace is shown in the picture. Usually, most days when I’m working, my cat Icarus sleeps in his bed on my desk. Every so often he’ll reach out and touch my hand, not asking for anything, just saying hi. It’s like having someone there to keep me company!

What do you hope people get from Skylark? Likewise, what did you get from writing Skylark?

I had so much fun writing this story. I felt completely carried away by it at times—I feel kind of silly admitting it, but I react while writing much the way I think/hope readers will react. I cry at the sad bits, I get scared at the scary bits, I grin like an idiot when good things happen. I think writing can be a very visceral experience. There were some scenes where I had to stop halfway through and take a break because it had gotten too hard to continue. But whenever anyone reports back that they finished the book in one night, that I kept them up past their bedtime, that they couldn’t put it down… I always think to myself, “Now you know what it felt like to write it!"

Who/What are you inspired by at the moment?

Right now? Shakespeare. I get a lot of my inspiration from the classics—particularly fairy tales and mythology, but also classic literature as well. I’ve been rereading a particular Shakespeare play and mining it for gems, for use in my current (secret) project, and it’s leading to all kinds of spin-off ideas.

Describe your sense of humour, and tell us the funniest thing you've heard lately.

I have a pretty dumb sense of humor sometimes. I’ll sit and giggle for far too long at a picture of someone doing something stupid on the internet, for example. I also get a sort of masochistic pleasure out of bad puns. Well, and clever puns too, for that matter.

What's on your nightstand right now?

I'm in the middle of reading SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo. (Ohmygoodness so am I. I just feel asklga;sghnl about the bloody thing. It's absolutely smashing.) It’s fantastic. I don’t have anywhere near as much time to read these days as I’d like, and usually when I go to bed I fall asleep more or less instantly. So lately I’ve been blocking out time and reading for at least half an hour before I sleep. And I’ve got some others in my TBR pile that I can’t wait to read—Diana Peterfreund’s FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS and E.C. Meyers’s FAIR COIN are high on my list of priorities, after hearing friends rave about them.

What does your book collection look like at the moment? Do you have a favourites shelf?

Right now I only have this one bookshelf for fiction/fantasy/genre stuff. Out in the main room of my apartment is the bookshelf I share with my roommate, where we keep classics, cookbooks, coffee table books, etc. A bunch of my children’s books (The BFG, Watership Down, etc.) are out there. And then the other bookshelf in my room/office is my reference bookshelf, with all my nonfiction and craft books.

This means that I have a stack of about twenty books that aren't on my bookshelves...usually I keep the ones I haven't read yet in the stack, and put them on the shelf when I finish.

Describe your go-to writing outfit.

Pajama pants, tank top, ratty bathrobe covered in cat hair. It's a glamorous life, what can I say?

Routine or whimsy?

Routine, punctuated by whimsy.

What music are you listening to right now? And what music inspired you while writing Skylark? (Bonus question: music while you write, or silence?)

I'm not listening to anything right now, because I get distracted when I hear music. Which answers the second part of the question—I need silence to write. If I listen to music with lyrics, I get distracted by the words of the lyrics. If I listen to music without, then I start inventing new, different stories to match the tone of the music. Or if it’s a movie soundtrack, I start playing the movie in my head.

But while I'm not actually listening to any music right now, I've got Human by the Killers stuck in my head at the moment. So maybe that counts.

What was the last movie you saw? Or, recommend me a movie.

The last movie I saw was Brave, the new Pixar movie. Reviewers were saying it wasn't as good as the others have been, so I was worried, but no, it's lovely. It's a mother-daughter film, too. So girls, take your mums and go see it.

List 10 things that make your heart happy. 

In no particular order:

  1. Books.
  2. My cat.
  3. Chocolate.
  4. That first fall day where the heat has broken and you can smell the leaves.
  5. Falling asleep listening to the rain.
  6. Organising my bookcase.
  7. Wind.
  8. Fans (The "we-love-your-book" kind, not the kind that makes the aforementioned wind. Though I like those too.)
  9. Snow. (Wow, a lot of these are weather related!)
  10. Stars. The night sky in general. Thinking about infinite space.
The absolute, greatest, singing-its-praises-until-you-bleed dessert?

Flourless, chocolate torte. The really dense, cold kind that slightly crumbly, usually comes with a dusting of powdered sugar...omg. Kill me now.

One question you would like to ask the nindogs readership?

What sorts of things do you like to see from authors you like? Extra content/deleted scenes on Skype? Interaction on Twitter? Q&A sessions/live chat? Physical, public events at bookstores? As new authors, we're bombarded with all these options for ways to promote ourselves and our books, and it's hard to know what works, and what readers really like to see!

The Avengers or Justice League?

The Avengers, hands down. I love Batman, but I loathe most incarnations of Superman, so they tend to cancel each other out. Whereas I love the Marvel universe in general. I’m a big X-Men fan, and I read Ultimates (which is all about the Avengers) before any of the movies started coming out, and thought it was completely awesome.

Greatest play you've ever seen, or something that had the biggest impact on your idea of storytelling.

Medea by Euripides. I saw a production of this play… must have been fifteen years ago now, but it’s still with me, as vivid as if I saw it last week. It starred Fiona Shaw (the actress who plays Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) and she was… horrifying. In a good way. If you don’t know the story of Medea, the short version is that her husband, Jason, betrays her and out of revenge she kills her children. As is traditional in Greek plays, the “action” takes place off stage and we only really see the aftermath. So we don’t see her kill her children—but in this production she carries them out, covered in blood. Real children actors, too. It was one of the most horrifying, gripping things I’ve ever seen. It scarred me. (Clearly, if I can remember it vividly fifteen years later.) But it taught me so much about drama. About how it’s not always the action that’s gripping—in fact, it’s never the action on its own. It’s how the characters respond and shape what’s going on that’s interesting to viewers/readers.

A woman after my own heart.

Now, time for some linkage and portkeys and suchness. For instance, if you're pretty stoked for Skylark and you like to win some free stuff (and everyone should be raising their hands right now, or else you need to go to some counselling to sort out your denial issues), Meagan, like the total Jedi she is, is holding a HUGE Skylark giveaway on her blog, like HUGE. Everyone who enters wins. I'm not even kidding. It's open internationally and all incredibleness. So climb that like a tree.

And don't forget to check out the rest of the sights on the Skylark tour!

Meagan's website
Meagan on Twitter
Meagan on Facebook
Skylark on Goodreads

Meet Heather Anastasiu, and her debut GLITCH (1984 meets X-Men)

I've been anticipating Heather Anastasiu's debut novel, Glitch, for the better part of this year. Dystopia, telekinesis, the moral discourse of society hidden in some brilliant YA. It's set for release August 7, and Heather was more than happy to answer some questions for me.

Glitch is your upcoming debut novel, the first in a trilogy, and it sounds absolutely phenomenal! So, what can we expect from it?

Glitch at its heart is a hero journey where the main character, Zoe, slowly discovers she has immense power and has to figure out how she’s going to use it. There’s action, romance, and the exploration of what it means to be human.

You describe Glitch as 1984 meets X-Men. Could you identify what elements you integrated from these sources into your trilogy?

I read 1984 as a sophomore in high school and loved it. There’s plenty of Big-Brother-is-always-watching type elements in Glitch, but I take it further so that Big Brother is inside people’s heads, quite literally because of cybernetic implants. But what really made me love 1984 was the shocking beauty of the love story, of two people trying against all odds to be free and be together. And yeah, there might be some of that in my book. ;)

Of all the superhero stories, X-Men was always my favorite, I think both because of the personalities of the cast of characters and because the awesome metaphor of being a mutant outsider struggling for equality is such a perennial theme. I wasn’t exposed through comic books, but through the cartoons and later, the movies. I love that the X-Men are a team, fighting with as much integrity as possible against both the establishment and other groups of mutants who want a more militant approach against the rest of humanity. Oh, and I love the variety of super-powers! There are so many possibilities to be imagined! One hint: I’d say Glitch’s main character, Zoe, is most like Jean Grey.

Oh! I love that combination so bloody much. Now, on your blog, you summarised Glitch in three words: dystopia, superpowers and romance. (Another combination I'd die for!) How did you interweave the three, and did you have any trouble managing them?

Really, my favorite movies and books are equal parts action and romance. I don’t like action movies that have just a little romance thrown in. I want the romance to be a driving factor in the tension and movement of the book. At the same time, I firmly believe we need a good explosion or death-defying moment now and then. I think action helps keep tension up and keeps the reader engaged, but it’s always the romantic core that makes me fall in love with a story.

But yeah, I've had trouble keeping it balanced! Before my agent offered representation, we went through a couple of editing rounds to add more action to the lacking second half of the book. It was definitely a learning experience for me on how to balance out interpersonal relationships with tension-filled action bits. The action in the books only continues to increase throughout the series, so I’m glad I started learning this lesson early.

I can most certainly relate to writing superpowers. You seem to have telekinesis, precognition, mimicking appearances and x-ray vision in Glitch. So, how did you approach constructing these? Did you draw from old cartoons, other books or comic books, films or games? Or did you appropriate what you knew of these powers into your own creation?

For their powers, I drew from super-hero movies, cartoons, tv shows, mythology, fantasy novels—any and all of my favorite elements from fantastic stories. Then I thought about how I might re-imagine these elements to incorporate them into the world-building of my novel, and in what fun ways they might help me construct my plot. Glitch is very sci-fi, everything has a logical explanation based in science, not magic. But I certainly bend the laws of what is strictly possible.

So one favorite element from storytelling back as far as you can go is: prophecy. I love the questions that are raised by the idea of destiny (and also wondering whether the future can be changed or not after a vision has been declared). Also, I very intentionally wanted Zoe to be a strong kick-ass heroine, so I thought of the strongest power I could give her—the ability to move things with her mind. Once I decided on the powers of my main characters, as I wrote, I started thinking about all the ways I could push and stretch their powers to make the world of Glitch a unique one.

There are definitely some hardships one would face in setting a novel in a society underground. What kind of research did you have to do to manage it? Did you aim for a City of Ember landscape, or maybe more of a District 13 from The Hunger Games setting?

I definitely thought of the dystopias that have come before when I was doing world-building for Glitch. I was so delighted that both of these books, City of Ember and The Hunger Games, along with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, had set the stage for this kind of story to be popular, but I was really trying to draw from the old dystopias that I loved growing up—1984, Logan’s Run, Terminator, Total Recall, The Running Man.

Your portrayal of the future is almost cinematic in its blend of darkness, science fiction and romance. I guess it's a thought in the back of everyone's mind that the pace of machinery and technology could lead to cybernetic enhancements among other things. What is your view on this? Do you think the conditions present in Glitch could ever come to light in our society?

In Glitch, I imagine a future in which technology is incorporated into our bodies. I don’t think this is really a huge leap. Putting GPS tracking devices in people’s bodies (Alzheimer’s patients mainly) is already a reality. Mike Chorost’s book World Wide Mind also explores the thought experiment of what might happen as technology becomes more and more integrated in the human body. We already are inseparable from our cell phones and the internet. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to think about embedding technology in our skin. I’m not really scared or pessimistic about this either. I don’t think it necessarily means The End Of The World. But the fun of being a sci-fi writer is seeing what trends exist in the world today (or the science of tomorrow) that could turn sideways and be used by those in power to gain more power. If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, just how far might people go to control society? I explore some of these questions in Glitch, asking just how invasive technology could become and how it could be used to control people.

In the spirit of dystopians, we have to touch base on the apocalypse. So, lately I've been starting to think that maybe the Mayans are right. Still hoping they're not. But, say they are: wackiest thing you can think of that you would do before the world ends. Go!

No! I refuse to let the world end next year! But let's see, wackiest thing? Sky-diving maybe, though that's not really that crazy.

I have some crazy love for cyborgs and mechanised alterations to the human form. It's definitely one of the reasons I'm super psyched for Glitch. How did you approach the science behind your cyborg transformations, and did it have any effect on how you characterised Zoe?

As mentioned above, I grounded the science of the cybernetics in trends that are already present in the world. But I certainly played with the extent internal machinery might be used to control humankind. In Glitch, there’s a chip in everyone’s brain that stops them from feeling any emotion so that they won’t rebel. But when Zoe begins to glitch and her body evolves to override the hardware, we get to participate with her as she begins to feel emotion. I think this was my favorite part of writing the book—trying to describe what it would be like to feel happiness, sadness, and love for the first time.

Undoubtedly, there is enormous film potential in Glitch. (Fingers crossed!) If it were ever optioned, who would be your dream director and cast?

Lol, let's see, in the dreamiest of dreams...Catherine Hardwick as a director. For Zoe, I would say Switched at Birth star Vanessa Marano. For Adrien - I really have no idea - someone tall and lanky with striking green eyes? Max is easer, he's your athletic blond boy, like Alex Pettyfer.

And your agent? How was it that you came to work with him?

I started querying in August. For the first time (I’d queried two other books previously, w/ nada response), I was getting a lot of requests for the manuscript. Charlie Olsen of Inkwell Management requested the full, and after he read the first 100 pages, he emailed asking to set up a phone call. He’d read the whole thing by the time we actually talked, and had problems with the last half of the book. He said he wasn’t comfortable offering representation right off the bat, and asked that I do some big revisions. I could tell, though, that he was a great fit. All his suggestions for revisions I felt were just what the story needed. We went through a couple revision rounds, talked on the phone a couple more times, and he offered representation in October.

Alright. Now, some rapid fire.

Favourite dystopian film? 

Favourite dystopian novel? 
1984. I read this in high school for a class, and it absolutely shocked my socks off. I'd never become so emotionally involved in a book or class before.

Character that you'd like to insert into your world?
Rose from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series because she's so kick-ass and could teach Zoe a thing or two. ;)

What keyword or theme in a blurb will immediately hook you?

Two features of a book that are most important.
Character development and story-logic. I want characters I can care about, and I want them in scenarios that are believable!

Best title you've heard?
Well, my favourite title of all time is "Something Wicked This Way Comes". But an awesome title of a 2012 debut is: "Under the Never Sky" by Veronica Rossi. Oh, and Susan Dennard's "Something Strange and Deadly".

The book concept you always wanted to read about as a kid?
Well, Twilight pretty much perfectly captured all my teenage melodramatic romantic longings for a good story. ;)

Books you're dying to read this year?
Ahhhh, so many!!! First on the list, Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Prince. And Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins, Crossed by Ally Condie, Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey, and Inheritance by Christopher Paolini.

Favourite guilty pleasure?
Re-reading Twilight. And watching True Blood.

What scenes do you enjoy writing the most: action, suspense or romance?
Romance, all the way.

Favourite superhero?
Hmm, I like the tortured ones. Wolverine probably.

Thanks, Heather! I am absolutely thrilled for Glitch and wish you all the success in your career. Have you any last words of wisdom for writers out there?

Never. Give. Up. I hit wall after wall of rejection, but I kept going: butt in chair, hands on keyboard, keep writing.

Ahhhh, how exciting! I'm looking forward to reading Glitch so bloody much. And I'm sure you're pumped too. So, why don't you check out some of the linkage below? Including a preview.

Excerpt from St Martin's Press
Glitch on
Heather's website
Heather's blog
Heather's Facebook
Heather's YouTube channel
Heather's twitter

Thursday's Things on My Mind and Things to Look Forward To

I am seriously anticipating Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, especially when Laini Taylor is making such blog posts and further Russo-inspired YA like Shadow and Bone (which is so absolutely stunning) is making my wanderlust for Eastern Europe worse. Likewise, Meagan Spooner's upcoming debut, Skylark, is very exciting. I'm actually on the official blog tour, so watch this space for a uber awesome interview with the loverly lady. And I know you're thinking Nina, honey, you must be a month behind because Timepiece is already out! Well, the HSC is doing horrible things to my mind and the few torturous months that was between my finally reading Hourglass and its sequel's release just flew by! I ordered it off Book Depository as soon as I figured out it was out and leaving it on my desk will motivate my through my Trial exams, hopefully!

You are all quite aware of my self-professed geekiness, which we all know has been demonstrated time and time again with my gushing over my superheroes. Some of you were witness to my near breakdowns in the weeks before the Avengers (which I still cannot articulate about to any extent), and lo and behold, we are here again. Batman, my sweetheart, the central force in my childhood, is coming to a close in Nolan's universe with the Dark Knight Rises, and it is a sad, sad day for all cinephile-superhero-crazies. I don't know if I can afford the midnight session of this, and I've already had to scrap the nine-hour trilogy session at the theatre. (Damn you, HSC! DAMN YOU!) Anyway. My initial Marc-Webb related anxieties has fizzled away into gosh-EStoner-Garfield-aren't-you-wonderbar-ness and I shall be seeing The Amazing Spiderman next Tuesday! So, whoopee!

Now, my final high school year and the HSC is nearing its final legs, and with that comes university applications and Open Days and a whole lot of people changing the default question of "How's school?" to "What are you doing next year?" All I know is that I'll either be at UTS or at Sydney, doing one Communications degree or the other. I actually cannot for the life of me figure out which one. If you have an opinion on the matter, please, feel free to voice it. I could do with all the advice - all of it!

So, that's me.

How about you? What's been on your mind this week? Any releases you're anticipating? Anything you've watched or read lately? How are you feeling?

bright young things (or, contemporary constraints on twenty-something writers)

taken from Marie Calloway's "Criticism"

The journalistic and self-effacing tone of burgeoning literary voices, particularly in the US, is beginning to impart a stigma on we writers of a certain criteria - young, and often, female.

Take Marie Calloway, who, mostly through her controversial piece Adrien Brody has been criticised as "a lazy boring writer who i know through a friend to be histrionic, predictably 'unpredictable' and most likely autistic".

again, from "Criticism"

Some of the debate that has arisen around writers such as Calloway has gotten me thinking about the expectations and, thus, the limitations of young writers, particularly of the female persuasion. More or less a direct result from brilliant minds and strong voices, such as Zadie Smith, Miranda July, etc., there is a preconception that any twenty-something female who decides to penn articles or stories will be inconceivably witty, well-read, insightful and idealist (that or ironically materialistic). (Thankfully, novelists in the YA genre seem to more or less give this a wide berth.)

As a society, we encourage girls and women to be emotionally accessible, and in touch with their feelings; we say that it’s an innately feminine trait. We say it, that is, until they have feelings that make us uncomfortable, at which point we recast them as melodramatic harpies, shrieking banshees, and basket cases. (credit)
Likewise, however, to Calloway, is our very own Kody Keplinger, who came under fire for The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend. At times it wasn't the nature of the sex scenes themselves, but the subtext that readers felt undermined female empowerment and was teaching poor values to its younger audience. This whole scenario where our heroine sleeps with someone who she despises, and felts dirty afterwards, all to escape her problems. I can see where both sides of the DUFF spectrum are coming from, those who adore the wry tone and those who abhor the beliefs within it.

And, of course, along with this whole "thing" with female writers and writing about sex and etcetera, there's Fifty Shades of Grey. Given the sparse nature of my time as a whole, I haven't gotten around to perusing this, despite the fact that in one afternoon at the mall, I came across at least thirteen women strolling around with the book in their arms or peeking out of their handbags. "Mummy porn", Twilight fan-fiction (as evidenced here and here) - are some of the "names" I've heard this book called.

There have always been imitators whenever something explodes on the bestseller lists, which can even sell well despite its intention to ride a trend/emulate the originator - the kid immersed in a fantasy world as a result of Harry Potter, the fabulous supernatural boyfriend from Twilight, the big, dark government from The Hunger Games...Now, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't of the YA genre, but its comparisons to the Big Two do make you wonder about what may be expected of our writers, particularly when the notorious youths of now are gaining their notoriety through self-exposure and revealing pieces on their personal lives and bodies. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you think there's a stigma on young female writers (not necessarily in the YA genre)? Do you think that poor writing we revere now will have any impact on the calibre of mainstream writers to come? What do you think about these young writers that have been criticised for "baring all" to get attention?

If you're intrigued by Calloway, here's some of her work.
(Beware, I'd steer clear if you're under 18 - very mature themes)
(Also, probably not safe for work. There is a strong image component to her work - it's kind of like blog posts, words and images)
on thought catalog
on muumuu house
on the rumpus
on vice

I'd also just like to make clear that I don't entirely support Marie Calloway. I thought that Adrien Brody had some merit to it, but overall, I do find her work quite uncomfortable to read, and at times, rather pointless and desensitised to the themes/context she's referring to. But, if you want to verse yourself in this type of writing, which is, disturbingly, gathering popularity in unpublishing, aspiring writers, I'd start with her and go from there.
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