Year End Reflections

I like New Year’s Eve/Day, for the same reason I like Valentine’s Day. Yes, I suppose we should make goals and reflect on our lives and reach again for the things we want every day, not just at the beginning of the year. But we don’t. Sometimes it’s nice to have a marked occasion for it. (Just like, on Valentine’s, it’s nice to have a marked occasion to express the love we should express every day anyway but sometimes don’t.)

I might do a post tomorrow on goals for 2015, but for now, here’s 2014 in review: it was a heckuva year.

10 11 Highlights

Signed with my agent (and I got to meet said agent in NYC)

– And I couldn’t have picked a better one. Not only did this career step make me feel validated as a writer, but it felt like a good life choice, something I’d be grateful for not just this year, but all the years to come.

Graduated with my bachelors degree

Had something published with an international audience

Swam in the Atlantic ocean (and then dolphins swim just where I’d been swimming)

Whale-watching in Tadoussac

Fall 2014 Trip 021

My brother came home after serving two years in Washington D.C.

I got a pretty cool new sister-in-law (because that same brother got married)

deven

Finally went to New York City and saw four Broadway shows, on Broadway

– Four different mornings I got on the subway to Times Square, where I’d wait in line for an hour with my book and get the student rush ticket, then I’d romp about the city and come back to see the show that night (or afternoon, if I got the matinee); it was lovely.

Went airboating in the Everglades

IMG_2077Fall 2014 Trip 038

Making new friends/connecting with old ones

– I guess this is not technically specific to 2014, but they were still some of the best parts of this year.

Seeing my name printed in a book’s acknowledgements as an editor

– P.S. You should go buy that book (“Little Dead Riding Hood”); the illustrations are pretty snazzy too.

5 Disappointments

Submission is a nasty thing, and I hate it

– I had this goal to be published before I graduated. That way, I wouldn’t have to get a real grown-up job. (Ha ha ha.) I signed with my agent in March, and technically graduated in August, so I thought – well, I may not be published, but there’s a good chance I could get a book deal pretty close to graduation, so that counts. But getting a book ready for submission takes a long time, and even getting there does not mean your book will be published. This year, it wasn’t so much the “not knowing” that was hard, as it was me putting off finding an actual job on the hope that my writing could possibly support me. The disappointment wasn’t failing (that’s still pending), it was, I would say, accepting I might have an average climb to success instead of a Cinderella story. (Which I know sounds obvious. It’s my flaw and strength to dream big first and then be disappointed.)

That awful apartment that was only $100

– This was the year of making almost no money and chasing dreams. And there was one apartment I stayed in over the summer that was . . . well. It will make a great detail to my still-pending “success” story to know that I once lived in such squalor. The place was awful. But it was only $100 a month. Chasing dreams is nice, but being an educated adult with no money is a bummer.

Thinking ponderously about running for half a year, but not really doing it

– Ha ha ha. Nothing quite like unrealized good intentions to make you feel good about yourself.

My first C in an English class

– I have gotten a C before, just so you know. Not like this cracked my glittering 4.0, but I’ve never gotten a bad grade in an ENGLISH class. This happened just after I signed with my agent. Besides being a full-time student with a job, I put all my energy to furiously working on my novel revisions. (Screw Jane Austen! I’m going to BE Jane Austen!) My professor was a smart dude who typically wrote on my papers, “Nice voice, nice concept, but very undeveloped–needs a few more drafts.” I know why it happened, but still. That C was a slap.

Missing out on signing a book

I had another goal this year, namely, to find a book I could champion and publish. And wouldn’t you know, I did find it. I pitched it to our editorial team. Everyone liked it. My boss told me, “Since you discovered this one, you can take the helm, negotiating with her agent and signing the deal.” I loved the author, loved the story, was so excited to mark it as the very first title on my own list, and then . . . the deal didn’t go through. Such is publishing. Sometimes things don’t work out for reasons that have nothing to do with enthusiasm or talent. But it was still a little crushing and still made me wonder, “Was I the doomed factor?”

3 Good Pieces of Advice (or Things I Learned)

“You don’t need to know the future to enjoy today.”

– Picture an office, where I’m handed a warm plastic cup of Dr. Pepper. An old guy with a bow tie telling me sometimes we can feel out of whack when we’re going through something hard. And me saying, “But there’s nothing!” and him saying, “Well you’re graduating soon. Do you know what you want to do? The next step can be scary.” And then, after acknowledging said in inner-terror with a sense of wonderment, he said, “Put seven pennies in your left pocket. Move them all by the end of the day, and for each penny, tell yourself, ‘I don’t have to know the future to enjoy today.'”

“I think you need a plane ticket.”

– My dad is the sort of parent who has instincts about his children. If you’re in trouble, he’ll feel it in his gut, like an intuiting wizard. And one night, driving through the winding roads of a canyon as it snowed in early spring, he said, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I think you need a plane ticket.” “A plane ticket to where?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Wherever you’re going.”

“Get out of that.”

– One of my creative writing professors was also the Utah poet laureate, and he graciously let me work on my own novels instead of specific class assignments. I was still ghost-writing then, and told him the specifics of that job. “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” he said. “You should get out of it.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but, I still need a job. Better this than scrubbing toilets.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But scrubbing toilets doesn’t drain you creatively. Sometimes we have to find a balance of what we love and what we need, and what we can do to give ourselves the ideal space and time to do what we love.” And shortly after, I quit.

5 Best Books I Read

(Not necessarily my favorite books, and not necessarily published in 2014, just the ones that impacted me the most this year)

Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott

Essays on spirituality. Lamott is so funny and raw and real. I picked this up because BIRD BY BIRD is one of my favorite writing books, and it was worth it. Maybe it helped that I read it almost entirely on the bow of a sailboat.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

– Beautiful illustrations. Haunting story. I may or may not have cried at a particular paragraph, which wasn’t even a sad part, but sometimes in a book, you read a line and think, “Yes, yes, that’s just how it is.”

Winner’s Trilogy and Grisha Trilogy

– I read so much YA this year, but these are two fantasy series I feel pretty confident recommending (they were fun and adventurous and not cursed with a love-triangle). 

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

– Technically a murder mystery, but it was so funny too. Charming and intriguing. The perfect “enjoyment” book

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear

– This is a children’s picture book, and I read it on the couch of a dear friend who showed it to me, and I was trying not to react too obviously, except to say, “Oh it’s lovely!” But it was more than lovely. It felt deeply personal and moving and pricked my dry, shriveled tear ducts.

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Red Rising Review

So, I picked up Red Rising because of the recent buzz. If you have your finger on the pulse of the YA market, you might’ve heard it brought up, or seen articles like this, that hail Pierce Brown as YA’s new superstar and Red Rising as the next big thing.

redrising

I’m always suspicious of mass popular things, but in this case Red Rising (mostly) lives up to the hype. I would have been very frustrated not to finish it, and that to me is always the first sign of a good book. It’s being compared to the Hunger Games a lot, and that is a pretty accurate assessment. Almost irritatingly so. The parallels are numerous.

Dystopian society separated into districts (I mean, castes) ruled over by the Capitol (I mean, the Society)?

Check.

Angry, struggling teenager thrust into a competition by dramatic family incident (I won’t give away spoilers)?

Check.

Period where they dress up, truss up, and prime their new competitor?

Yep.

Belligerent, nasty-looking mentor who is secretly wise?

Yeeeess.

A symbol (like the Mockingjay) that not only describes our hero but also becomes the symbol for a movement?

Righto.

Underdog companions who may or may not be killed?

Poor things.

Higher-ups watching from cameras? Giving out spoils to favored students? Our hero knowing that they are the “real enemy” even while the teenagers massacre each other?

Holy crap, yes.

Believable, but poignant romance under the surface?

Oh wait, no. That didn’t happen.

Red Rising is also compared to Ender’s Game, and that’s where it differs from Hunger Game’s ‘survival of one’ mentality. There are armies, groups binding together, and actual leadership skills required. Lots of try-fail cycles. This is semi-formulaic storytelling, but so what? I love those stories. Frankly, I love this story. And bonus—the writing is pretty damn good too. Brown sets up his character to be this insanely skilled, physically prime warrior, but then, everyone is like that, so what he really gets to do is describe epic fighting scenes that would actually be impossible in a normal body. I liked Darrow more than I thought I would. He’s a little bit nasty, got some darkness in him, and a part of me wants to really root for him—in the same way in high school, if you suddenly have an amazing football team, all at once you just want to go and cheer on the slaughter? Evil is the enemy, and finally we have someone vicious (not heart of gold good) to go after it.

But okay. The reason why I’m standing on the ‘this book deserves it’ side of the line. Clever world-building, for one. There is so much going on, but I wasn’t confused—and for me (who yawns majorly at epic fantasies) this is quite the feat. Secondly: Sevro. His character alone might have sold the book for me. I love him. AND THANK YOU Pierce Brown for emphasizing friendship over romance. I mentioned already the romance is nothing to write home about. But that’s okay. Because the bonds of friendship, and the complications of respect, loyalty, and forgiveness, make up for it.

Also, Pierce Brown? He’s like this handsome, 26-year old guy, who is charismatic and funny in his interviews, and who came up with the idea for this book while rock-climbing (like on an actual mountain rock, not in a gym with plastic handholds). Are you kidding me? This seems completely genetically unfair. IS HE A GOLD? IS HE THE MUTATED ELITE OF OUR SOCIETY? I am deeply annoyed, but only out of envy.

The final assessment—do I think it’s going to be the NEXT BIG THING?

Probably not.

Here’s why. For one thing, don’t tag your pegasus, people. You can tell Random House doled out some whoppers to market this book. Tons of ARCS went out, dozens of prestigious interviews, and it’s only been on shelves a week. If you go to the website, there are premade buttons and widgets you can use to promote your fandom. Kind of like buying a Coca-Cola shirt—you’re paying to advertise for them. They are banking on this going big.

Lucky for them, it is a pretty good book. But surrounding it with this much hype will automatically give people permission to read it with a critical eye. They’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?” before they even crack the first page. Note that Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter didn’t get massively dissected until after they were huge hits.

Secondly—and this is not really even an insult—I think the book is too smart. There’s no formula for making a smash success, but one thing they all seem to have in common is major mass appeal. Your mom could read it. Your kid brother. Your little sister. A single accountant. A married athlete. Whatever. And since 80% of readers are female (no lie, there have been studies done), and the romance here is wanting, I’m not sure everyone will like it. Scifi/fantasy fans will love it. People who like to read everything will love it. But the average joe? I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend this to my mother (who liked the Hunger Games). I think all the military stuff and complicated world-building would bore her. My little sister? No. She’s young, and I think a lot of it would be slight confusing, slightly headache-inducing.

Still, I think it will do really well, regardless, but maybe not rise to the level they’re possibly wanting. But hey, I won’t be mad if I’m wrong.