Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.

Overview: Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.

Review: I read this about a month ago, but I completely forgot to write up this review. One thing that surprised me? Why hadn't I ever picked this up before? I really wish I had read this as a teen and not an adult because it really would have illuminated a lot of issues going around at the time. Reading it as an adult, it was easy to connect the dots and what happened to Melinda. So this wasn't a plot-driven book, mainly an issues book with such a rich and distinct voice that keeps you reading.

Melinda's perspective despite the ordeal she's been through is authentic and at times, pretty funny. I loved her view of high school and found that many teens would identify with her. This really lightened the issue enough that it wasn't a 'depressing' book. Rather I found it pretty hopeful.

My favorite part was the last scene of the book. When you hit the last word, you instantly know this book is going to be a reread. That's how profound it was. Teenage me would batter this book to wrinkles rereading and picking out favorite lines.

This is probably why I struggle so much writing contemporary, because my own stuff doesn't have that 'profoundness' or takeaway 'feeling' that my teenage self has associated contemporary with. At least not yet, anyway. For me, this subgenre is like diving into water, coming back for air, and realizing the world is different even though it's been less than thirty seconds and every thing is still ordinary. The only difference is the way in which you're seeing it.

Weekly Writing Progress Report - M4 Week 1

Hi All--

In a mission to be more consistent with my writing schedule, I will be posting weekly reports to track my writing progress and to hold myself accountable. Big thanks to my blogger friends for setting an example for me (I'm looking at you Krystal :)) Feel free to join me on your blog and share your progress!

Week 1
Project: M4 - YA Fantasy
First Draft

Word count this week: 9,644
Total word count to date: 9,644

So as you can see from the image above, I normally track my progress in my writing notebook, but now I'll incorporate it into my blog post. The headers are date, start, end, and ww-words written. I usually draw a line per week.

After my writing slump with M3, I decided to shelve it and get started on M4. During my time with M3 it was really hard to focus. I ended up taking too many breaks from the story due to work and travel which I think resulted in my lack of progress. Nonetheless, it was a learning experience to set up my goals for M4.

M4 Goals:
  • 70,000 word first draft in seven weeks (pretty short wc for fantasy, but normally after revisions it gets up to 80-90 thousand)
  • Aim for about 10,000 words weekly
  • Do not go back and revise chapters--write it completely, tack 'The End' when I get there, then leave it to stew a bit before revising.
Writing Style:

If you had to put me in a category, I'm normally a 'pantser' until it's time to revise then I make a to-do list, a broad outline, and then my analytical side breaks out, organizing and detailing everything. This time around, I decided to do a skeleton outline - detailed enough to give me direction and an end goal, but sparse enough not to strip away the creativity process.

Are you a pantser? Or a plotter? Comment below :)

Btw, am I the only one that does writing selfies? Haha, I really hope not!

I make matcha green tea lattes on weekend mornings when I write :)

Current writing desk.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

SCBWI WWA Conference 2015

Well I did it. I scratched number 1 off my list. It wasn't the LA Conference, but the Regional Western Washington. My friend brought up a good point that it seemed like a waste to miss out on the one just a short drive away rather than to shell out for a flight and hotel expenses. And I had to agree. I also wanted to network with people in my area too, so the regional conference seemed like the best option for the conference novice that I was.

Here are a few things I learned:

1. Order your business cards early. I slacked on this and ordered mine a few days before so I had to pay rush shipping to get them on time. Business cards are a great way for networking. Trading cards take only a split second versus trying to find a piece of paper, scratching down your info, and handing it over. In an environment where your headed to your next breakout session, you may only have a few minutes to connect. So get them! The sooner, the better!
  • Where should you get them? Well my quick google search indicated that MOO had the best review with VistaPrint coming in second. Personally, I like MOO better because they have some really cool templates you can use, and the quality is pretty darn nice.
2. Don't go into a conference having expectations. You know the kind of expectations I mean. You've heard the stories where aspiring writers bumps into cool agents, they instantly connect, and then aspiring writer talks about their book, agent says send it over, and then they want to represent aspiring writer, book is sold, and then writer posts the how I got my agent story on their blog. Cue dreamlike swoon and hopes of something similar happening to you.

Okay, maybe I'm coming off like a pessimist, because it does happen! But don't go into it expecting it because you might sorely disappointed when it doesn't.

3. Try to make friends, and don't be put off if you don't connect. A conference is a great place to make friends, find beta readers, and critique partners. I think the majority of us 'book people,' are naturally introverted so putting yourself out there is kind of tough, but just do it. You never know who you'll meet. I had some difficulty making new friends, but a lot of people from my YA workshop class last year attended the conference as well, so it was nice to catch up with them all.

4. Bring a notebook and pen, sweater, and tote bag.
  • Conferences are usually held in hotels in large reception areas. You have no control over the a/c or heater, so a sweater or light jacket will come in handy. I found myself FREEZING at times. Dress comfortably, but business casual. It's all about first impressions, right? I tend to be more of a dressier person so I may have stuck out a bit. But I kind of like to distinguish myself from the crowd so I was comfortable with that. 
  • Bring a notebook to take notes. You never know when inspiration strikes. It's also a great way to reinforce what you learned throughout the day. Also, you get tons of book recommendations at these sort of things, so jot those down! 
  • Bring a tote bag. Or something that can fit a folder. You'll get a folder with helpful info when you check in. I ended up having a small bag that fit my notebook, but not my folder so I had to carry that around. It would have been just nice to slip into a larger bag so that I could free up my hands going from one room to the other. Note that this doesn't mean bring like a carry on bag. You'll be weaving through crowds so you don't want something large that will be a pain to take around, or worse, accidentally hit someone, spilling coffee over them.
5. When deciding which conference to go to, get reviews from people who went, and decide what you want to get out of it.
  • You can get reviews from blogs, forums, and people you know. It's nice to get their impressions of it so that you can get an idea of what kind of conference it is.
  • What do you want out of it? To get inspired? Workshops on craft? Or a chance to pitch your book to an agent or editor?
    • SCBWI was more of a get inspired, learn through breakout sessions and intensives. I know there are some other conferences that had pitching opportunities or are more broad or niche in their genres.
    • Check out the conferences website, the scheduled program, and the faculty list to help you narrow down your choice.
Now, onto my general impressions and my experience at SCBWI Western Washington Conference.

My intent was to make friends, get inspired, and if I talked to an agent, that'd be pretty darn cool. I was still suffering from my lingering sinus infection so it was hard for me to get my enthusiasm up considering I could hardly eat the day prior. But I put myself out there and tried to bring out my social butterfly.

What surprised me most was the amount of picture book writers and illustrators there was. It outnumbered YA for sure. Maybe I could have tried harder, but I didn't find too many people in my genre or near my age. I noticed the demographic was more older (30's to 40's) Caucasian women. There was of course, a few males, and younger people (early 20's that were still in college).

I always feel like I'm at an awkward age: mid twenties, business professional. But it dawned on me that perhaps people my age (who are starting out on their own and perhaps paying back school loans) may not want to shell out for conferences compared to more established people who had funds or young scholars (who are already paying tuition in school, so this could be seen as a class or another learning opportunity).

I'm sure it's not like that at every regional conference though. A lot of factors go into it. I, however, knew a few friendly faces, so I still had fun catching up with them.

The agent, editor, writer panels were really interesting to see. The keynote speakers were very inspiring. And break out sessions were a cool learning experience. I can't give a detailed summary or reiterate the lessons since it's an intelligence property issue--the information belongs to them and should not be redistributed. What I can say is that you will get inspired, and you will learn something new. So that's a pretty neat pay off of conferences.

The takeaway my friends and I got from this conference is the 'persistence and perseverance' idea of success. Those that reach the dream--getting agented, publication, etc--are those that never gave up. It may have taken decades and they had moments of wanting to quit, but it was those that pushed through it that made the dream possible. Of course, there's also the exception of those who's first book became 'the one' that landed them success, but they aren't the majority. The majority are the ones who persevere.

So what does it mean to persevere? Well my definition would be those that continue to write. To quote Robert Penn Warren, "Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write." And as for success? Well I think Winston Churchill said it best, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

So continue on my brave writer friends. Your time. My time. It will come. But in the meantime we must write, and continue to do so. Simple words, yet hard to follow through on in our busy day-to-day lives.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Two Years, Chopped Hair, Urgent Care, SCBWI, Shelving M3 = Roller Coaster Week

Hi friends,

I have so much to catch you up on. This week has been a stressful roller coaster ride. It started off on a good note. I celebrated my 2 year anniversary with Michael by recreating our first date (it's now become a tradition of ours).

To see how it unfolded last year and how our relationship began, click here.

He surprised me greatly by getting me a guitar and I, him, with a symbolic ring he's always wanted.

I don't have a good singing voice, nor am I skilled in music, but growing up music became a part of my life. I played flute for three years, piano for two, and learned some chords on the guitar by my ex-boyfriend in high school and it stuck through college. I was never really that good though, but I enjoyed putting simple melodies together and writing lyrics, but when I moved to Seattle, I literally gave away all my belongings, including my guitar and put it in the past. So it was very thoughtful that Michael had thought to give me a piece of California, and a creative part of me back.

What a wonderful way to start the week!

But unfortunately, work has been pretty busy, and I found myself pretty stressed with all that I needed to do, not just in my work life, but personal and writing life as well. I was overwhelmed by all the stuff I had to do and the non-progress in M3. It drove me insane. Why couldn't I get this story out as I did M2? Was life really so busy and chaotic that I couldn't handle it all? Would I have to give something up?

This overwhelming feeling festered within me, and I had hoped that maybe the SCBWI conference this weekend would give me some sort of direction in my writing life. As for the work and personal, I would just have to trudge through it. So I rush ordered my business cards and put on my can-do attitude.

But my attitude about work didn't change. I'm the kind of person that likes to get my stuff done so when software issues or last minute changes come my way, it ruffles my feathers a bit. But I had planned it out and I would finish my project by Friday.

On Thursday I had a haircut scheduled during my lunch break. I was long overdue for one, and had planned to keep my length and get my split ends trimmed, but when I sat in the salon chair, that overwhelming feeling came over me again. The reflection in the mirror looked so haggard, so sloppy, so stressed. "Just chop it all off," I told my stylist, not wanting another worry, no how matter infinitesimal it was.

And so she did.

With the weight from my hair off me, I was starting to feel better. More refreshed. I could handle the three facets of my life. Surely I could. I was a new woman now!

And then that night I got sick. A severe allergy attack. I couldn't sleep all night. And come morning, I wasn't any better. I was worse. I called in sick to work. I would not finish my project. That devastated me. Like I said, I pride myself in getting my work done, especially when I made promises to meet certain deadlines. Then I broke out into a fever. I started crying. Whatever this illness was, it didn't seem likely that I would be able to make it out to dinner that night with a friend and to a writer's networking cocktail hour like I had planned. Would I even be well enough to make it to the SCBWI conference the next day?

When Michael got home from work he took me to urgent care. Turns out my severe allergy attack turned into a sinus infection. I'd never had a sinus infection before so this pain was new to me and unbearable. The doctor prescribed me a nasal spray along with some other suggested OTC drugs. I went home, followed the directions, but didn't feel any better. I tossed and turned all night, getting snippets of sleep, and improved enough that I could rally myself and go to the conference.

I'll make another lengthier post about my experience as a first time conference attendee, but long story short, it made me realize that M3 needed to be put on pause. Perhaps I was overthinking it which stunted my progress. Or maybe I had fallen out of love with it after taking too many breaks with traveling and moving. Or maybe, M3 wasn't ready to be written and wasn't fully yet realized. Maybe it's one of those stories that takes years to cook, a story that I'll come back to, adding some spice, adjusting the taste, until I get it just right.

For now, M3 will be shelved, and I'm moving onto my next idea. 

It's been a roller coaster week filled with many ups and downs, twists, and turns. I was never one for roller coasters so I'm kind of glad to be off the ride now. I think it's time to leave the amusement park and get back to the steady humdrum of life.

Have you ever had a roller coaster kind of week? Comment below!

Yours truly,


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Swan Lake

This past weekend was seriously one for the books. I've always wanted to see a ballet. Something about music, dance, and story all wrapped up into one just sounds so... magical! Michael made my dream come true by getting us tickets to see Swan Lake for my birthday gift. It was about three hours long with two intermissions, but I could have seriously watched forever. The music from the orchestra, the costumes, and the athleticism of the dancers blew me away. If you haven't seem a ballet, I recommend you put it on your bucket list!

Note that photography is not allowed during the show because it can be potentially dangerous for the dancers, so I waited until the encore and turned off flash and snapped this shot. I know, such a rebel I am :P

After the ballet we went to Bottlehouse for some wine and met up with Michael's family to celebrate belated birthdays. It was just the right way to end the perfect day. 24 is definitely growing on me.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Falling off the A to Z wagon :(

Mad kudos to all you people doing the A to Z Challenge! I don't know how you guys do it, but I'm throwing in the towel, so if anyone knows how I can take myself of the linky list, comment below.

I guess I should explain why I'm quitting the challenge. Though I love blogging, writing any little details of my life so that I can remember it and share with others, posting every day has been a challenge due to my busy schedule. Even more disheartening was my inability to give back, comment, and connect with other's on their blog. Since I'm far too busy to do both, it's only fair that I should drop out from the challenge since I'm not meeting its prerequisites.

Now that I won't be posting every day, I will definitely return the favor. So a big thanks to all who stopped by my blog. I wish you all the best on completing the challenge! You guys are amazing!

Friday, April 10, 2015

A to Z Challenge: I is for Insurgent

I is for 'Insurgent.'

I went to see Insurgent this week (the sequel to Divergent) with my sister. I wasn't too enthusiastic since I read the series. For me, the plot line really starts to dip in the second installment, and the third was... I should stop myself here. I don't want to influence nor do I want hate mail from die hard fans. I just wasn't a fan of the rest of the books, though I did love Divergent.

So it was really interesting going to the movies with someone who hadn't read the books. My sister really liked the first book and really wanted to see the second movie. But she left the theater disappointed after. I found it interesting that we came to the same conclusion albeit through different medians (book versus film).

Did you ever see a film that was better than the book or vice versa? Let me know in a comment below!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A to Z Challenge: H is for Home

H is for 'home.'

When I think of home, I think of wherever my mom is. The backbone and head of our family, my sisters and I gravitate toward her like the sun.

Unfortunately, I always forget to take pictures when I'm home and with my family, but I did take a few pictures of the SF skyline.

Have you been to California? What area do you like best?

A to Z Challenge: G is for Good Morning

G is for 'Good Morning.'

Wowza, this A to Z challenge has been more difficult to keep up with than I imagined. Alas, I am back from my travels, so maybe I can actually get my posting up on the correct letter day. In the meantime, hang in there with me.

Earlier this week, I was traveling on business, but it gave me the opportunity to hang out with my sister in the bay area. If you know me, you know that I need coffee to function. I don't have it all the time, mostly only work days, but I felt really drained on Monday. Knowing my absolute love for it, my sister took me to Farley's for my morning java. I always like trying new places, so Farley's was pretty cool compared to the usual Starbuck's.

It made me realize that morning's for me are never good without a warm beverage in the morning. What about you? What gives you a morning boost?

A to Z Challenge: F is for Fish

F is for 'fish.'

Now that my travel posts are over, I guess it's back to my life in real time!

Over the weekend I was sent back to California for a business trip, but I certainly made the most of it by hitting my favorite sushi joint ever! If you like traditional nigiri with an inventive twist, look no farther than ICHI Sushi! I've written about them before in this post, so my apologies for being redundant. But this was my third time going and honestly, they just get better and better. I always leave feeling blown away.

Now do you see why F is for fish?

ICHI's really good at keeping their menu seasonal and sustainable and with their high quality fish, each bite is like a sushi lover's dream.

Can anyone guess which nigiri piece the photo above is? The choices are listed on the menu ;)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Asia Vacation: Day 13 & 14 / A to Z Challenge

E is for 'enough.'

After traveling for awhile, you get to the point where you've had enough and home sounds so good. Alas, this is my last post for my Asia vacation.

Day 13 marked our last full day in Seoul. I couldn't decide if I really liked Seoul or if I hadn't been exposed enough to it all. It just seemed lacking compared to Da Nang, but that could probably be attributed to the weather.

My sister, loves Korean culture. She love K-dramas and the food, so she really wanted to cross of everything on her to-do list. Unfortunately some things weren't open since it wasn't tourist season, but one thing we did do was the Korean bathhouses.

Let's just say it was an interesting experience.

When you enter, you get a change of clothes and strip down naked to go to the communal showers and hot baths. I don't know why, but it vaguely reminded me of what a prison shower would be like (not that I would know what one does look like). After that you can do an optional body scrub. For that, you're basically lying on a rubber mat while an Korean woman in her bra and underwear scrubs all the dirt off you. I was pretty stunned by all the excess skin that came off me, but it kind of hurt, so not sure if I'd do it again.

After that, we changed into our uniforms and went to the communal dining area for lunch then the fomentation rooms.

After this ordeal, I started to feel ill. I suspected I was coming down with a cold, but it started to hit me at full force. Our next stop was the N Seoul Tower, but I didn't want to miss it, which resulted in me being miserable the whole time. In hindsight, I should have stayed and rested at the hotel.

The tower was kind of a disappointment. It's placed on a hill, not that tall, and not a good looking tower either. The view was nice, but the skyline unfamiliar that I couldn't properly enjoy it. Sadly, it was letdown for me and the freezing temperature didn't make things any better. Nontheless, we did our love locks, took photos, then left.

We had planned to go to Insa-dong after, but I wanted to be closer to the hotel in case I needed to rest, so back to Myeong-dong it was for dinner. Again, we had Korean BBQ. As you can see, my family loves this stuff! We ended the night with karaoke, and then our last full day was over.

On day 14, Michael and I said good-bye to my sisters (they were on an earlier flight) and had lunch at Bulgogi Brothers. With a little time to spare we went to Cat Café before heading to the airport. The cat cafe was an interesting experience. About forty cats lived in the cafe, and I won't lie, it smelled pretty funny. We only stayed about fifteen minutes before our allergies went out of control. Oh yeah, and a cat jumping from a shelf and landing on my shoulder probably added to our haste. Again, interesting, but I prefer my Blaire Bear at home.

Asia Vacation: Day 11 & 12 / A to Z Challenge

D is for dawn.

We (my two sisters, Michael, and I) literally arrived at dawn in Seoul, South Korea on day 11 of our Asia vacation. The red eye had been long enough that it made us uncomfortable, but short enough that we couldn't get any sleep.

And right as we waited for our train I was pushed from behind. I turned behind me and found an elderly man. Everyone laughed and Michael informed me that the elderly here weren't the friendliest bunch. I'll say! What a stark contrast to my grandparents! During this trip, I was pushed a lot by old people. Perhaps they were attracted to my purple coat or something.

We dropped off our bags at the hotel and went to a Starbuck's for much needed coffee then explored Gagnum and had breakfast at Butterfinger Pancakes. Their portions were so huge we had to split our entrees, but so good. After we walked around for a bit and did some shopping.

My first reaction to Seoul was how westernized it was, that if I hadn't known better, I probably wouldn't have been able to distinguish it from any other city. Of course we weren't going during tourist season so maybe that would have changed my perspective?

And oh man was it cold. Freezing really, compared to the eighty degree weather we had just left. Now it was 30 degree weather which was a big adjustment. Throw in exhaustion from the red-eye flight and we were beat. We had an early dinner then all went to sleep.

To make up for our early night, Day 12 started off packed! We went to Gyeongbok Palace. The palace was expansive and well kept. It was pretty, and I expect it would have been even better in the spring of fall. But we made do and took photos galore!

By the end of it we were famished, so we headed to Myeong-dong and had lunch at Bulgogi Brothers.

After that we shopped and took a rest at the hotel before venturing out for the night. Street food vendors were everywhere and so enticing they became our dinner.

For dessert, we went to Poem Café and had waffles and tea (apparently they love waffles in South Korea, but I'm not complaining because so do I).