Tag Archives: author

My Favorite Books of 2019

7 Dec

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 98 books this year, and it was the year of the audiobook! My new job requires a lot of driving around to various library locations. I’m often spending 2 hours on the road, an hour there, an hour back. I’ve really embraced my time in the car by listening to audiobooks, mostly nonfiction (because I have the hardest time listening to fiction? Is that just me? I love reading fiction, but it doesn’t seem to stick when I listen to it. Anyway…)

Just like last year, I wanted to share my ultimate favorites in each category. These books didn’t necessarily release this year. I just read them this year. If you want a complete list of books I read, check out my 2019 Goodreads challenge. Also, follow me on Twitter! Every day in December I’m sharing a book I read this year and why I loved it.

I hope you find something to read!

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Favorite Picture Book

Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s The Favorite by Stacy McAnulty

What can I say? I’m a sucker for cat books, especially black cat books. But really, this is an adorable book. The artwork is clean, crisp, and fun. Plus, there’s all sorts of pets in this book, so if you have a little one who love animals, this is a great one.

Favorite Middle Grade

Tunnels of Bones by Victoria Schwab

This is book #2 in the Cassidy Blake series, so definitely check out book #1, City of Bones. It’s about a girl who can cross the veil between the living and the dead, with a plot twist. Her best friend is a ghost! And she travels with her ghost-hunting parents to various famous locations for spiritual activity. It’s spooky and fun. I cannot wait for book #3.

Favorite Book Told in Verse

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

This beautifully written book is told from the perspective of a young girl who must leave Syria. While she’s in America, she must cope with her family left behind, the new family members she lives with, and culturally differences. It’s really powerful, and I encourage everyone to read it.

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Favorite Graphic Novel

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

This is such a powerful (and important) graphic novel. It’s technically a nonfiction graphic novel, too, which is a genre on the rise, and I really enjoyed reading this. It’s a real-life account of George Takei’s childhood spent in a Japanese internment camp in the United States. What I found especially powerful about this graphic novel is how Takei decided to stay in his child’s mindset, showing how he perceived his reality and what was happening to his family. It’s very touching and absolutely disturbing at the same time. I also enjoyed the artwork and the few notes Takei included to explain what was actually going on. Both of his parents were amazing people, but I really remember his mother from the graphic novel. She was a saint.

Favorite Adult Fiction

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

I’m a huge fan of TOR, and this is one of their recent releases. It’s very, very short, so if you want a quick read, I recommend this one. It’s a future America, where everyone is pressured to carry firearms with them. (Your life is your responsibility.) To remind citizens of this, America hosts a gameshow where they randomly orchestrate mass shootings. That’s all I’m going to say. The book is absolutely politically charged and very heavy, despite its short length, and I found myself thinking about this book for months after reading it. To be 100% honest, I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorites while I was reading, but at the end of the year, when I was reflecting on everything I read, I didn’t forget this one, and I wanted to desperately to talk about it again. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is. That’s why I recommend this one.

Favorite Adult Nonfiction

In Praise of Poison Ivy by Anita Sanchez

This category was arguably the hardest one for me to pick a winner. 2019 truly was the year of adult nonfiction. I read so much of it, and I’m only starting to read more. There are a bazillion books I wanted to put here, but in the end, In Praise of Poison Ivy stayed with me the longest. Why would I read about poison ivy, you ask? I mostly picked it up because I was rewriting my botany-focused books and wanted to expand my knowledge. And I couldn’t put it down. The history of poison ivy – how it was discovered, why it was spread world-wide, which famous figures in history wrote about it – is fascinating. I honestly couldn’t believe everything I learned in this book. Plus, now I have tons of home remedies for poison ivy.

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FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT CONTEMPORARY

Doomsday by Katie Henry

This book is about a girl who believes the world will end one day, and she is ready for disaster. She doesn’t like to call herself a prepper, so I won’t either. In the end, though, I really loved this book. Honestly, it was a book I could’ve used as a teen. It has some great conversations about anxiety and mental health, and I really appreciated it. There’s also aspects of religion (particularly Mormonism) that you don’t typically see in young adult novels, as well as conversations on homelessness and generational trauma. It’s a bit long (over 400 pages), but I thought it was well worth the read.

FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION

Contagion by Erin Bowman

Technically, I wanted to nominate both Contagion and its sequel Immunity for this category, but the second one would’ve forced me to talk spoilers, so I thought I’d focus on book 1. This book is amazing. It takes place in space, but isn’t too bogged down by science, and it’s full of action, plot twists, and terror. I was legit scared while reading parts of this book, and that never happens. I loved everything about this book, but I don’t want to say too much, because I think it would spoil some of the experience. Just know that you’ll be terrified and thrilled while reading if you love science fiction and are okay with being scared in space.

FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT DEBUT

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

This book is incredibly sweet, also very honest. It follows Frank Li, a Korean-American teenager, as he navigates dating with his parents pressuring him to date a Korean girl rather than his American girlfriend. But he is navigating so much more than that. I highly recommend this book. There are so many layers, I can’t even get into all the characters. I picked it up thinking I was reading a love story, when I ended up crying over his family’s relationships. It’s a very touching book, about family, friends, loss, and culture.

Biggest Surprise

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The Kingdom by Jess Rothenburg

I love young adult fantasy and science fiction. It’s sort of my thing. So it might come as a surprise to many of you that MY biggest surprise was a YA SFF crossover, but I’ll explain. THE KINGDOM was heavily marketed as HBO’s West World for young adult readers. And I admit, I am not a fan of West World. (What?! I know. But I digress.) I LOVED this book. It takes place in a Disney-type theme park, where patrons are invited into a princess-filled world to fulfill all their dreams. Except there’s been a murder. And we’re reading the book from the potential murder’s perspective. Also one of the robot princesses. There are so many awesome plot twists in this book, subtle nuances, and conversations on AI, freedom, and dreams. I loved everything about it. I felt so immersed in the creativity, and the time shifts from after the murder to the times leading up to the murder kept me captivated until the end. So good!

MY ULTIMATE FAVORITE

American Royals by Katharine McGee

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If you’ve been following me for a while, this might not be a huge surprise for you. I’m a HUGE fan of Katharine McGee. The Thousandth Floor trilogy has a place in my heart as one of my favorite light sci-fi series. This is her newest series. It follows multiple characters just like her last series, but this time, it takes place in an alternate America, where America has a royal family. The drama is there, the tension is unbreakable, and the plot twists keep coming. I love how McGee always makes the worst possible thing happen to her characters right when you think they might get a chance at happiness. It’s such a guilty pleasure, and I didn’t put this book down once. I cannot wait for the sequel. I am DYING for the sequel. I need it now.

I hope you enjoy the reads!

What were your favorite books this year?

~SAT

How I Revise My Novels

3 Aug

I talk a lot about writing, creating, marketing, editing, etc. But I haven’t specifically discussed the revision process. But isn’t revising and editing the same thing, you ask. No, not really. Though the lines can definitely blur, revising is a stage that comes before editing. Revising is knowing what to keep in your work, what to cut, and what to adjust; editing is making all of those changes pretty. You’ll do a ton of both during your writing journey, so I wanted to discuss how I revise my novels.

I have three main revision stages:

  1. Major Revision
  2. Beta Reader Revisions
  3. Final Revision

So let’s go through them one by one.

The Major Revision:

After the first draft, I start my “major revision,” which is basically a giant rewrite. I used to be a big believer in outlining, but the more experimental I got with my writing, the more I realized my outline was holding me back. I was always trying to force my characters to do what they needed to do, not what they wanted to do. Nowadays, I still rely on a basic outline, or what I refer to as my road map. (I know where I’m starting, where I’m ending, and a few pit stops in between, but I mostly let the book lead itself.) Granted, this method definitely creates a lot more revising in the end. In fact, there’s enough revising needed that I’ve also stopped going back and revising as I write. If I did that, I’d constantly be going backward. Instead, I jot down notes as I go and let it go until the end. (No point in making sense of it until I have all the puzzle pieces, right?) In my WIP, I have editing notes on almost every chapter; on top of that, I keep two documents: To-Do Editing and World Building Needs. These will anchor me when I’m finished and need to organize my thoughts. At the end, I look at all my notes, probably take even more notes, and revise. A lot.

Beta Reader Revisions:

I tend to send my work to beta readers after I’ve significantly revised. (More on that later.) Right now, I have 2 or 3 different groups of betas I work with. Typically, my in-person writing group here in KC gets my work first. (Enter revision.) After that, I send it to 1-2 trusted online friends. (Enter another revision.) Then—and I don’t always do this as much as I wish—I try to get the opinion of a non-writer. During these various stages, I might send the work back to the same beta numerous times. If that’s the case, I love to work in revision mode on Scrivener. (Or Track Changes in Word.) That way, it color codes what version I’m on, and they don’t have to re-read my whole manuscript.

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I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

Instead they can read the color-coded parts and give me feedback on those. Though, to be honest, I typically use the revision mode during writing by myself too. (There’s also a handy screenshot button that lets you keep various versions of the same chapter in one place…but I’ll stop advertising for Scrivener now.) The key to working with beta readers is finding ones that are compatible with your work and your style. That doesn’t mean you connect with someone who praises everything you do; rather it means that you have an understanding of their goals and know how to approach each other in a positive, constructive way. If you don’t vibe with someone well, that’s okay. Move on. Find someone who works well with you. Two amazing writers can be in the same room; that doesn’t mean they’d make good beta readers for each other. (Or, as my father says, two great people can be in the same room; doesn’t mean they should be married.) And you want a marriage…er, a long-term partnership.

Final Revision:

Once I get most of my revisions done, I take a HUGE break. And I mean significant time away from the manuscript. This helps clear my mind. Without that, I’ll probably make the same mistakes I’ve been making in the past. You want to come at your project with fresh eyes. Once that happens, I focus on a basic read through, and I make no changes. Instead, I put sticky notes on places I want to make changes with later. (Yes, I tend to print out my manuscript. I know, I know, what a waste of paper. But this goes back to getting fresh eyes on everything. You’ll see things on paper that you can’t see on a computer screen.) Here’s a photo of my manuscript I worked on with my agent.

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If you didn’t catch on, I love office supplies. (Seriously, there’s nothing better than fresh pens and paper and Sticky Notes.) In case you’re curious what you’re looking at:

Blue = grammar

Orange = plot I know I need to fix

Pink = other things I want to consider

Green = current reading place

I actually go back and fix my grammar first. But that’s because I have so little to fix at this point. (I work on my grammar during the beta readers stage.) After that, I’ll tackle the orange and make an outline of each issue. Once I have a list of page numbers, I’ll fix each problem at a time. That way I know what the rhythm is like and I have my obvious problems out of the way by the time I move into pink. “Other things I want to consider” tend to be strange bits of info that caught me off guard during my initial read through. Something I wasn’t expecting but something that I might want to reconsider. The possibilities are truly endless, but this is another reason to come at your work with fresh eyes. You might realize you accidentally left something from version one of your book’s world building in the current script even though it no longer matters (or, worse, isn’t true anymore).

Now these stages aren’t necessarily taken so cleanly. My latest piece for instance? I started taking the very first draft to my writers’ group, no revisions beforehand. Why? It felt right to me, and sometimes (okay, all the time) you gotta go with your gut. In this case, I wanted to revise as I created. I think a part of the reason this happened was because I began this book for fun. I literally never thought I’d pursue it seriously, so I had no plan, no outline, no road map. It’s been really exciting, but also very challenging. Having beta readers help along the way was the right move. My point being, of course, is that just because you find a revising style that works for you doesn’t mean that you won’t adjust your own methods from project to project.

Be honest with yourself while revising. Find others who will also be honest with you. And revise as many times as your writing heart can take it (and then a few times more).

~SAT

P.S. I recently made the leap and decided to pay WordPress for the premium edition, so you shouldn’t have to see any more ads. I hope you enjoy the cleaner look! (The ads were really starting to bug me.) If you see an ad, take a screenshot and send it to shannonathompson@aol.com. Because they def should not be there.

P.S.S. I also decided to shut down my editing services. After six years of editing, I came to love so many of y’all’s work, and I will forever be a fan. (Shout out to C.E. Johnson, Steve Ramirez, Grant Goodman, Rich Leder, Kristin and Ryan King, and so many more.) I didn’t make this decision lightly. Between my new job at the library and my new goals with my writing career, though, I just couldn’t keep up with the quality and demand anymore. I know this is the right move for me (and for my authors), but my little editor’s heart is sad. I’m sending good vibes to all my authors out there. Thank you for trusting me with your words all of these years. ❤ It was an honor.

Life Changes: Literary Agent + New Job!

8 Jun

Hey all! In case you missed it, I’ve had a crazy past month. (Hence why I missed a blog post last week. My bad.)

Not only did I attend the LitUP Festival, where I had the utmost joy of introducing Adib Khorram, author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY, L.L. McKinney, author of A BLADE SO BLACK, and Miranda Asebedo, author of THE DEEPEST ROOTS, but I also announced a new life change.

I am now represented by Katelyn Uplinger at D4EO Literary Agency!

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Here is me signing my contract. But of course my cats wanted to be involved.

I will write a blog post about my query trench experience soon, but here’s a quick rundown. I’ve been querying agents on and off since I was fourteen years old. (Almost fourteen years ago!) I can’t even tell you how many projects I’ve written, revised, and submitted in various formats. But I can tell you that prioritizing my querying life helped me the most. Making this decision wasn’t easy. It meant stepping back from blogging, social media time (that I had invested a lot of marketing/time/money in), and indie publishing. (I love indie publishing. Don’t get me wrong. But between my full-time day job, my part-time editing job, and life, I just did not have time to concentrate on publishing books while writing new ones for agents. At the end of the day, I knew I wanted an agent. It was the right next step for my little writer’s heart.) I even had to take a step back from writing time in order to make time to query.

According to my QueryTracker, I made this decision at the end of 2016. I started researching heavily, read blogs (QueryShark, Writers Digest, etc.), I entered query critique contests and other contests to meet writer friends, I attended conferences whenever I could afford to, I joined a local writers’ group as well as connected with online beta readers, and I kept writing. I never put all my hope in one book. (Even while I was querying the book that won my agent’s heart, I finished writing two other novels.) That being said, this is my journey, and every writer’s journey is different. In a way, I don’t believe in giving advice on querying any more than I do giving writing advice in general. It can be helpful, yes, but ultimately, every writer must figure out what works for them. This is what worked for me. And I’m totally thrilled to work with Katelyn Uplinger. I actually had the joy of speaking with three agents, but Katelyn really understood my project and my long-term career goals, so stay tuned!

I also accepted a new position at the Mid-Continent Public Library. I am now The Story Center Program Manager! For those of you unfamiliar with The Story Center, it’s an amazing home of storytelling, where storytellers and those who enjoy stories come together as a community. There are writing courses, author meet-and-greets, and so much more. Now I get to be a part of making that happen, and I cannot be more thrilled to start this new adventure.

Basically, my life has been super crazy good, but also super crazy busy.

So what are my next steps?

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Revisions!

I’m adjusting to my new job and taking on my first round of agent revisions. I’m currently working on IMMERSION! For those of you who have been following me for a while, you’ll remember that’s my botany-inspired videogame-esque sci-fi book about science and monsters! It’s my book baby, and I’ve worked on it for a very long time. In fact, according to my Instagram, I started writing it in October of 2016. It’s been three years of writing, revising, and querying various versions, and it’s incredibly exciting to get another chance to dive back in.

I promise I’ll try to keep up with everything else, including TAKE ME TOMORROW as well as one blog post a month, but please don’t be upset with me if I have to cut back on one or both for a little while. (I mean, I already missed it once. Eep.) I’ll definitely make an announcement if that is the case. Typically, those updates happen on my Twitter @AuthorSAT.

Whew! Okay, so that’s my crazy blog post this month.

To celebrate, I will be releasing a newsletter soon with an exclusive excerpt of Immersion, as well a giveaway for a signed copy of any of my books. (Open internationally!) Sign up here.

Now back to those revisions…

~SAT

Writing with a Motivational Calendar

13 Apr

My life has changed quite a bit over the past year. Between moving and starting (two) new jobs, I’ve had to adjust my writing life and the way I think about my writing life. As many of you know, I currently work full time at the library and then work part time as a freelance editor. Suffice it to say, I don’t have a ton of time to pursue writing, but I try not to let that get me down (because I definitely don’t have extra time to feel down about it either, though it happens from time to time).

So what does a full-time working adult do to feel like they’re still pursuing their writing dreams?

Well, write, of course, but I also keep a motivational calendar.

What’s a motivational calendar?

Technically, it could be whatever you want. Mine, in fact, has changed over the years. A couple years ago, for instance, I liked to have a “future” motivational calendar. Meaning, I would write down goals for that week, and then get it done. Now my calendar is focused on the past. Every day, I take the time to record everything I did to pursue my writing goals. Mostly, I write down my current word count, how many queries I sent, how many writing-related jobs (such as a literary internship) I applied for, and other miscellaneous info. I also make sure to outline where I started on Day 1 and then I update that info on the last day. That way, I can see progress. Oh, and my favorite part, I highlight major accomplishments, like a full request from an agent. 

Here’s a snapshot of my January calendar.

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Since it’s small, here’s some facts. I started 2019 with my WIP “The Girl With The Thousand Faces” being 26,996 words in first draft/plotting. At the end, it was 31,533 with significant world building being finalized. My other WIP “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” started at 53,633 in its second draft. It ended with 81,938 words and completed. In that time, I also applied for four jobs and sent out five queries on my YA sci-fi “Immersion.” Most exciting of all? I received a full request from an agent for “Immersion” and won the Secret Agent contest with my historical “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” which also resulted in a full request from an agent. (P.S. Both are still pending, so keep your fingers crossed for me.)

It might seem tedious or silly to keep track of all the ways you pursue your dreams, but to me, it keeps me motivated. It helps me remind myself how hard I am working – that I haven’t given up my writing dreams because X, Y, or Z in life – and that I will keep trying. Plus, it’s easy to forget all that you do on a day-by-day basis, and by having a physical representation of it, you won’t forget. You’ll know how hard you work (and also know it’s okay to take a break). You might notice, for instance, that I don’t write every day, or do anything some days. And that’s okay. 

One word at a time, one day at a time, right?

Oh, and one more note of importance.

My calendar is definitely cat-themed.

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~SAT

 

Learning to Write from TV: The Umbrella Academy Edition

2 Mar

Writers are often told to read (and read a lot) in order to know how to write. And while I totally agree with that sentiment, I also think writers can learn from other forms of media. Yes, including TV shows. (Even TV shows adapted from a novel or comic book.) In fact, I think TV is often an easier reference for writers to discuss. Why? Because there are dozens of best-selling novels that come out every week, whereas there’s only a handful of TV shows that everyone seems to be talking about. Recently, for instance, the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy began to trend, and it seemed like everyone was chatting about it, including the publishing industry. Perhaps this is because it was adapted from a comic published by Dark Horse Comics. But what I want to concentrate on is how we can use popular TV to teach writers about trends, topics, and storytelling.

How can we use TV to discuss writing? By picking out the pros and cons, of course.

Here’s a few based on The Umbrella Academy.

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Also, major spoiler alerts begin here. I will discuss major events, including the ending, so if you don’t want this show spoiled, bookmark this article now and come back later. If you’re not planning on watching, I think this can still be a beneficial example of using TV to discuss writing. If you’ve already watched and don’t care about spoilers, awesome! But make sure to warn your followers of spoilers if you decide to share this piece.

Thanks for keeping entertainment fun!

Let’s start with a pro, since I like to concentrate on the positive:

Pro: Siblings with Personality

The Umbrella Academy follows seven children adopted by an eccentric billionaire after they were born in quite an unusual way. Six of these seven appear to have superpowers and are raised practicing these powers, with the seventh “ordinary” child being kept from lessons. That being said, the actual show takes place in their adult years. Rarely, do I see siblings depicted so realistically (especially in fantasy, especially in big families). Each sibling has their own personality, struggles, and place in the family. Even better? They treat each other differently based on their past selves, present relationship, and future desires. I really enjoyed watching the brothers and sisters bicker as much as joke, and lift each other up (while also pushing each other down). You know, complications. Too often we see a brother or sister appear in a minor supporting role with little to no depth or personal drive. And we definitely don’t see enough big families. I absolutely loved them and thought they were believable, round characters. (My only complaint on these particular siblings was the relationship between Allison and Luther. Non-biologically related siblings who have romantic tension isn’t necessarily my issue. My issue is that I found it uncomfortable, based on the fact that they were raised from birth together, as compared to similar tensions found in cases where they were not raised together, i.e. Avery and Atlas in The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee.) But that is a personal preference and a different discussion for another day.

Con: Female Tragedy for Male Depth

Far too often female characters suffer trauma, including death, in order to push male characters forward. Now, I’m not saying female characters cannot suffer, or die, but when the suffering of a female character (or any minority character) exists solely to push the male character into growth, then I’m not happy. This particularly happens with Diego, whose girlfriend Eudora dies for no other reason than to have Diego question his purpose, not once, but a number of times. When it isn’t Eudora pushing him, then it’s his mother, a robot, who he has to turn off at one point. A simple solution would’ve been emphasizing Diego’s desire to make his childhood suffering mean something by becoming a superhero (though this is only mentioned once, by – you guessed it – Eudora, right before she dies), while highlighting Eudora’s personality as someone who always had to follow the rules, who then dies when she finally agrees to break the rules (though this only happens, because – you guessed it again – Diego dared her to). Ultimately, these topics were barely touched in comparison to Diego’s rage over her death. This caused an uncomfortable situation where the male character could not grow without two female characters being hurt, or more specifically, killed. This also happens later in the show with Luther and Allison, as Luther consistently decides he exists in order to protect her by forcing his decisions on her. Not to mention Allison gets her throat slit once, which further takes her voice away. Now, granted, I will acknowledge that Allison’s powers exist in her ability to speak, so her losing her voice is far more symbolic than just Luther trying to oversee her decisions, but the combination of Luther’s lack of boundaries mixed with her silence bothered me. (Probably because the other brothers become complicit in it.) In contrast, the female characters are not driven by male pain. Allison is driven by her daughter, and Vanya is driven by her need to be accepted. The only instance where we see a female character driven by male pain is with Vanya, who reacts violently when her boyfriend “Peter” is hurt in a fake fight. Even then, though, the ultimate attention is averted from Peter and placed back on Vanya’s inability to control her powers. This sort of emphasis could’ve easily gone the other way with the male characters as well. Basically, it’s not about one gender causing another gender to react, but rather the emphasis at which it is focused on and what it means. We can do better.   

Pro: Humor Mixed in with the Serious

We do not have enough humor in fiction. That goes for flat-out humor books, as well as humor sprinkled throughout other genres. It’s one of the reasons I often find 600-page fantasy novels exhausting. (Which, by the way, is the main type of book I read.) I have found that the fantasy novels I love the most include moments of quiet, as well as humor (and from numerous characters and situations). The Umbrella Academy kills with their humor, especially with Klaus. I wish I could expand (because my negative sections feel longer than my positive), but this love is pretty straight-forward. I want more humor in everything.  

Con: Villains Suffering From Mental Health and Broken Homes

Listen, I get it, villains are supposed to be evil, and evil things can happen because of untreated mental illness. I’m not denying that. However, evil comes from non-mentally ill places as well, but modern entertainment is still leaning towards one more than the other, especially when it comes to female characters. I feel like it’s an overused trope, especially when clear lines aren’t drawn and discussed. The worst part for me in The Umbrella Academy is how unclear they made Vanya, especially when using her childhood flashbacks. It is never clarified if her powers are causing her to kill or if she, herself, has mental health issues and those issues were exacerbated by her powers, not to mention her father’s decision to cover her powers up without telling her even into adulthood. By not clarifying, especially when she begins to hallucinate (something that could be seen as schizophrenia), the art is setting up viewers to interpret mental health vs. evil, or even blending them, and I don’t like that message. We need to do better when it comes to depicting mental health. Take the time to clarify, even it means clarifying that no one truly knows. Without that, we will continue to get the same images, in this case, a young Ellen Paige discussing anxiety and nerves while shakily popping pills, then adding a montage of killing nannies as a child before she was on medication, (when no one else is depicted to be using medication or to have anxiety or anything), and that’s unacceptable. On a side note, I also hate that the male villain comes from a broken one-parent home. Is it just me, or is the only “positive” depiction of one-parent homes in popular entertainment Gilmore Girls? I’m probably biased, because I grew up in a one-parent home after my mother suddenly died. My dad raised me, and he is awesome. (I’m obvs. sick of seeing deadbeat dads, too.) Most of all, I’m really, really tired of watching motherless children become the epitome of evil, while orphans become heroes. Not that orphans can’t be heros, but why is it that losing two parents equals a superhero cape and adventure, and losing one means anger and doom? And where are the villains who come from “good” homes? And the heroes with two parents? And, and, and. We need more variety.   

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Pro: Mashup of Tropes

The Umbrella Academy is a master of mashing up common tropes in unique ways. What do I mean by that? Well, as most writers know, nothing is new. With hundreds of years of literature behind us, everything has been done before. Writing isn’t about creating something no one has created before, because – spoiler alert – someone has created it. Instead, writing is about creating something new by using what we already have in unique ways. And The Umbrella Academy kills it, specifically with science fiction and fantasy tropes. To name a few, we have superheroes saving the world, a boy who sees dead people, a time-traveler, a monkey who has been experimented on until it’s more human than monkey, and a girl who thinks she doesn’t have powers (but, duh, she does), who is also the person who can’t control their powers. We’ve seen these characters and abilities depicted dozens of times. So how was this show unique? Let’s look at Klaus, the boy who sees dead people. Instead of trying to scare the viewer with Klaus’s powers (think Fifth Sense), The Umbrella Academy focuses on how Klaus himself is scared and how he has coped (or failed to cope) with his powers. Not to mention his dead brother Ben who follows him around to try to help him cope with his drug abuse. Learning to utilize tropes is an important aspect of writing in any genre, and I’d point any sci-fi/fantasy writer toward The Umbrella Academy for a lesson on that. In fact, I could probably write another ten pages on every trope the show used and how it spun it in a fun, entertaining way. But I’ve already rambled enough on here.

Netflix Hargreeves GIF by The Umbrella Academy - Find & Share on GIPHY

Con: Non-Ending Endings

There’s a big difference between a cliffhanger and a non-ending. Cliffhangers leave the reader or viewer wondering what will happen to the characters after the ending wraps up most (if not all the questions) posed at the beginning of the book or show. A cliffhanger is a hand popping up from a grave after the characters killed the villain, only for the villain to come back to life. A non-ending ending is when the villain and the hero are finally facing off and someone holds up a gun and shoots, but we never see where the bullet goes or who shot the gun or if it did anything at all. In my opinion, I felt like The Umbrella Academy has a non-ending ending. The entire time it’s focused on surviving this impending apocalypse, only for when it hits for them to disappear to some mysterious non-named time period in the past due to their time-traveling brother. It feels really cheap. Honestly, I think it could’ve been a cliffhanger if they had showed us exactly what time period they went to. Or even their childhood with the father standing before them, ready to train Vanya with them instead of ostracizing her. It would wrap everything up, but would still make us wonder if the solution would work. The fence between a cliffhanger and a non-ending ending is thin, but I feel like creators have begun to favor non-ending endings more than actual cliffhangers, and it drives me crazy. (And not in a good way.) I love cliffhangers. I’m happy to be enticed to the next season. But don’t make me feel like I wasted my time by telling me nothing by the end either.

In non-writing related notes: I loved the soundtrack and cinematography and the storyline in general. In fact, they played one of my favorite writing songs (“Run, Boy, Run” by Woodkid) and even made it the title of Episode 2. (If you haven’t watched the music videos for Woodkid’s entire album, do it now. It’s pure art.) I also loved the sets and directing style of nearly every scene. And not going to lie, I was super happy to see Hazel and the donut lady end up together. (I’ve never been so invested in a side characters before.) The show is super entertaining, and I’d highly recommend it to sci-fi/fantasy fans. I enjoyed myself a lot, and actually made the time to finish all 12 episodes (which is rare for me). I would definitely check out another season. And I felt like I was reminded of a lot of writing skills.

So do you think writers can learn from watching and discussing TV and movies?

If so, what shows do you think are good examples?

Tell me about them!

~SAT

 

My Average Day as an Author

2 Feb

Despite tons of movies and books revolving around authors and publishers, the life of the average author is still pretty mysterious to most. Why?

  1. Hollywood never gets publishing right. Ever. This is the one fact agents, editors, publicists, and authors agree with.
  2. An author’s journey to publication is unique, VERY unique, and authors’ lives reflect that.

Being an author is hard work. And most authors—yes, even famous New York Times bestsellers—can’t afford to be full-time writers without someone else supplementing their income, health care, etc., and even then most of us have day jobs or a side hustle or both! I could go on and on about the different types of author lives I’ve seen out there, but I thought I’d share mine instead.

So what’s my average day as an author like?

Morning: Time to get up and go to work

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Also, my co-worker got me a desk blanket, so I stay warm all day.

Yes, I work a full-time day job. I currently work in marketing for the Mid-Continent Public Library. Basically, I study our demographics and choose programming that I think would best suit our community. I also change out displays, research tools we could utilize, and work on desk serving the community. (Librarians have to be super flexible. You go wherever demands are needed, and that changes any given minute.) It’s an 8-5 instead of 9-5 (because librarians don’t get paid for their lunch break at my location), so I actually spend a minimum of 45 hours a week at work. That being said, I love my job. It’s pretty fulfilling.

Lunch Break, a.k.a. Precious Writing Time

At my day job, we are required to take a one-hour lunch break (again, not paid). Which is fine with me. I spend about 15 minutes slamming whatever meal-prep nonsense I made the night before, and then I spend the rest of the 45 minutes writing whatever I can in my book. I actually just hit my first 10,000 words accomplished on my lunch break alone, which felt like a huge stepping stone for me. If the writing isn’t working that day, I spend my lunch break writing blog posts (like this one!) or updating my author website, scheduling social media posts, checking my e-mail, reading my beta partners’ latest, or editing work for my clients. Clients, you ask? Yes, I have another job on top of my library job. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

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Finishing Work

Sometimes at work, I get to process books, which basically means checking returned books and giving them the all-clear to go back out on the floor. My work is nice enough to allow us to listen to podcasts or music during these shifts. (They don’t happen every day, but I thought it important to mention since I get some work done during this as well.) Basically, if I’m lucky enough, I can listen to a writing podcast or a podcast focusing on my current research. It helps catch me up some weeks, not going to lie. Also, I’ve learned to love processing as a reader. I stumble across all kinds of books I never would have found on my own, and it’s broadened my reading spectrum like no other. I read more adult books than ever before, and it’s nice to have a reprieve from YA every now and then.

After Work to Bedtime

I drive home, generally listening to more research podcasts. If errands need to be run—groceries, gas, etc.—they’re typically done here. When I get home, it’s time to feed the cats, clean the dishes, make dinner, meal prep for the next day, exercise (or so I tell myself), and get to bed. Very rarely do I have the energy to write during this time frame, but I usually have the time to read. I catch up on my latest and head to bed, ready for another day.

So what about my weekends?

04cc48864d346eebfdf2a4d7e6747617On Saturdays, I spend the entire day working on my services. Between editing during my lunch breaks and editing all day Saturday, I spend about 15-20 hours per week editing. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I won’t lie, I considered shutting down my services when I started my full-time job, but I just couldn’t. I love editing too much, and I have a number of clients I love to work with over and over. (Shout out to Steven Ramirez, C.E. Johnson, Grant Goodman, J.N. Colon, Rich Leder, and more! Seriously, check out their books. They are all so talented.) At the end of the day, editing is still one of my passions, and I want to spend time working with authors on their novels. Not going to lie, though, while I’m editing, I spend time catching up on housework. (Those dishes and laundry won’t clean themselves.) And I drink a lot of coffee. Obviously

I take Sunday off. No emails. No editing. No writing. I even try to refrain from social media. It’s time to spend with family without distractions. And then, Monday starts the chaos all over again.

That’s my average author life.

I work one full-time job and one part-time job, but I try to fit my author life in with everything else.On average, I work 60 hours per week. I may not have the most writing time or personal time or TIME, but hey, I’m doing the best I can every day. Every novel was written one word at a time, just as this blog post was, and I’m about to put more down after this!

Fun fact: I’ve actually covered this three times in the past, because my life has changed that much. If you’re curious, this is what my life was like as a night-working full-time freelance editor and publicist in 2015, and here’s my post in 2013 that covered what my writing life was like as a full-time college senior working part-time at a publisher.

So what’s your average day as an author like?

~SAT

2018: The Year of Writing Limbo

29 Dec

Last year I wrote this article—2017 Wasn’t My Writing Year—and I talked about failing my top three goals. Those goals were wanting an internship at literary agency, working for a library, and signing with a literary agent.

Every year, I write an article like this. But this year, despite struggling to find time to blog, I had to make myself follow up about this year. I mean, come on, I succeeded at one of my major goals! Two months after my past article, I was hired by the library, and last month, I was promoted and became full time. In regards to my other goals, I actually had the opportunity to speak to two literary agencies about internships this year, but with all my life changes going on, I had to back out. But hey, I’m still in contact with them about a future opportunity once life settles down.

This year, I didn’t make any goals for myself.Mainly because I realized how hard I was on myself last year due to the goals I created. In fact, I took a long, hard look at those goals and realized I shouldn’t have goals with uncontrollable results. Ex. “Signing with a literary agent” shouldn’t be a goal dependent on one year. The goal should’ve been “finish writing that new book,” or “query X amount of good fits this summer,” or “take a query workshop to improve your skills.” So, yes, signing with an agent is still a dream of mine, but I’ve learned how to redefine my goals overtime.

So what did I do this year to achieve my dreams?

To be honest, I barely wrote. I sent out a limited number of queries. I didn’t have a single publication come out for the first time in six years.

I could concentrate on the negative, or I could concentrate on this:

I was hired by the library, one of my dreams, and I was promoted eight months later. We moved into a better, healthier house and neighborhood, and my health is improving. I was featured in YASH (the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt) twice! I was invited to speak and sign books at the LitUp Festival, a YA festival run by teens. They were amazing, and I had so much fun. I even got to meet one of my memoir heroes, Ishmael Beah. Clean Teen Publishing released  Bad Bloods: November Snow as an audiobook, narrated by Jonathan Johns, and Minutes Before Sunset also released as an audiobook, narrated by Sarah Puckett and Steve Campbell. They were a blast to work with. I also signed books at the Local Author Fair here in Kansas City, and saw my books in a library for the first time. And I never stopped writing. I finished writing my first historical fantasy during NaNoWriMo, worked on lots of beta reader notes, beta read many books myself, and began writing my next sci-fi.

2018 highlights

So you know what? I did just fine, new publications or not, agent or not, internship or not.

I did my best every day, and I’m going to continue doing my best every day, and I feel pretty good about it in retrospect. Now, to be kinder to myself on a regular basis. I think I’d be a much happier, healthier person.

This is my only goal for 2019.

~SAT

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