June Read-List and Watch-List

Read-list: 

 

1. Midnight Thief, by Livia Blackburne

O.M.G. How awesome does the plot sound. Gotta love characters with conflicting agenda, when the love interest is also the antagonist. Can’t wait to read this!

 

2. The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco

Yay for horror that doesn’t involve monsters and gore! A girl who hunts murderers meets a strange tattooed boy with a dark secret. Plus, creepy doll rituals and Japanese exorcisms. YUM.

 

3. Forget Me, by K.A. Harrington

“Psychological thriller with a romantic twist” is what it says on the Goodreads page. Reason enough to read it.

 

4. Of Metal and Wishes, by Sarah Fine

More horror. A unique setting. A girl who is drawn to the Ghost in a slaughterhouse where she assists her father in the medical clinic. The whole thing sounds very Phantom of the Opera-ish. And The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most haunting, beautiful books I’ve ever read.

 

5. We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

This one has a very deliciously twisty plot.

And bonus reason to read the book: Maggie Stiefvater loves it.

 

6. Deep Blue, by Jennifer Donelly

I will never get tired of mermaid stories. This one’s about mermaid heroines who gather their forces across the 6 seas to prevent a war between the Mer nations. Sign me on.

 

7. Trust Me, I’m Lying, by Mary Elizabeth Summer

Grifters, con artists, swanky high school and its dirty politics, missing fathers. What’s not to love?

 

8. Inland, by Kat Rosenfield

This seems to contain elements of magical realism, and goodness knows I’ve been searching high and low for magical realism books. We need more of those, especially in YA! And you know what Toni Morrison said:

 

9. The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman

 

Speaking of magical realism, here’s one of the masters of that genre. I’m still in love with the last Alice Hoffman book I read, The Story Sisters. This one, though, is set in a freak circus. You can’t really go wrong with a setting like that. Remember Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby? So yes, I have high hopes for this one.

 

10. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, by M.G. Buehrlen

A 17-year-old who has visions of the past is actually a Descender, someone who can travel back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is in fact one soul with fifty-six past lives. And each of them features this mysterious boy with “soulful blue eyes”. SO reading this.

 

What’s on your read-list? Any other recommendations?

 

 

*

 

 

Watch-list: 

 

1. Dream High 2

Dream High was a pretty entertaining and compelling drama series, so hopefully the sequel won’t disappoint!

 

2. Pretty Little Liars

Yes, I’m late to the game. But I’ve heard it’s got a great twisty plot like Vampire Diaries, so I’m sold. There’s the stigma attached to PLL – a lot of people probably dismiss it as some high school drama series – but I’m hoping it will, like TVD, change my mind and wow me right from the first episode.

 

3. God’s Quiz 4 

One word: Donghae.

 

Also, this is the cutest thing you’ll see today:

(The boy, I mean. Not the fangirls.)

 

Okay, okay. Something cute that’s not for the fangirls:

I don’t know, bananana sounds catchier to me.

 

Happy mid-week! :0)

vampire diaries season 5 catch-up – OMGOMGOMG and more OMG moments!

Okay, I’m waaaaay behind on this, I know. But I finally caught up with the recent episodes of Vampire Diaries season 5 and

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG 

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OMG.

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OMGOMGOMG.

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O.M.G.

(OMG.)

That is all.

.

.

.

.

.

Well, of course that’s not all. Have I ever left you hanging on a blog post like that? No, this is just the beginning of a rave. Because damn, that was one good episode!

I’m talking about episode 11. (Hey, I said recent episodes, not the latest – so NO SPOILERS!)

KATHERINE PIERCE. Katherine “oh no she didn’t” Pierce.

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Yes, her.

She’s one of those annoying villains you just love to hate. That sneaky little bitch is awesome! I LOOOOOVE what the writers did with her character, made us empathise with her (yes, I cried over her murderous, vindictive, manipulative, selfish lying ass) before having her pull a HUGE SHOCKING TWIST that is totally – TOTALLY – characteristic of her.

Indeed.

She’s a survivor, and she has always been a teensy bit jealous of Elena (despite how annoyed she is by her – and I do agree because Elena can be incredibly self-righteous and whiny) because of Stefan’s love for Elena – OF COURSE SHE WOULD DO WHAT SHE DID!!!

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And SURVIVORS DO WHAT THEY HAVE TO IN ORDER TO SURVIVE. There, no spoilers! (Although I’m quite possibly the only person who has only just caught that episode.)

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE TVD.

5 seasons on and it still has that power over me. Powerful storyline, powerful characters, powerful emotions! The writers never seem to run out of ideas, and each story thread is woven masterfully into the main narrative arc. HOW DO THEY DO IT?!? I’ve been studying it for years, and I still can’t generate ideas like theirs to develop a story as compelling as that.

I know what the naysayers think about TVD. They think it’s another Twilight, with a whiny protagonist and hot vampires.

illustration by antlergirl

That is where the similarity ends.

Yes, TVD might involve vampires and a love triangle – which, frankly, is starting to wear on me (still, STELENA IS END-GAME) – but it is NOTHING like Twilight.

TVD has a fantastic plot that keeps you on (sorry for the cliche) the edge of your seat; moments that take you by the shoulders and plant you in the characters’ shoes so that their pain is your pain, their joy, their love, their anguish and hate are all yours too; moments that rock you in those very shoes and make you go OMG (as demonstrated amply above).

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Plus, the writers go deep with each character, fleshing out each of their personalities, making you love them and love to hate them, even the seemingly irredeemable ones like Klaus (KLAUS! I’ll get to him in a bit). In fact, so fully developed every character is that there’s even a spinoff, (although I’m still crazier about TVD than The Originals).

Okay. Klaus. KLAUS! HE’S BACK! THE ORIGINALS ARE BACK! Finally! (And no, I don’t care if I’m using too many exclamation marks!)

((Or parentheses, for that matter.))

Tyler WHO?! Oh, you mean the jerk who chose revenge over Caroline, the one who broke her heart?

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I get where Tyler’s coming from, but his relationship with Caroline never felt balanced, like Caroline was the one always giving her all and he’s just there for the sex.

Klaus, though.

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Klaus curbs his darker intentions for Caroline. I mean, yes he’s not the healthiest person to be with, but his love for Caroline is purer than anything he’s ever done.

I ship Klaroline as much as I ship Stelena. Although Elena has been deluded for so many seasons, being with Damon, I kind of just want Stefan to be happy without her already. I’m willing to root for Stefarine (that’s Stefan and Katherine) if that’s what it takes.

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Stefan has been my favourite male character since the beginning. If you recall, I was hooked onto the show since episode 1 of season 1, mostly because of Stefan. His humanity, his gentleness with Elena, who was still grieving over the premature death of her parents, his comforting presence – everything about him spelled solace.

Stelena in 1×01:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgeidiEdwzk

It was the final scene in the episode. See why I was hooked?

And here’s Stelena in 5×04:

Sigh. Stelena scenes are always so perfect. So pure and sweet.

Damon, on the other hand, is volatile and psychopathic and self-loathing. I’d absolutely hate him if he weren’t so funny and hot.

And Delena scenes are just (I run the risk of getting severely flamed here) MEH. They’re cute in real life (Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder used to date), but not so much in the show.

Still love Damon’s character, though.

Funny how what started out as an excuse to ogle at Ian Somerhalder became a full-blown obsession with a TV show. At least I can justify that with the things about writing I’ve learned from it!

Any TVD fans out there? Or any TV shows to recommend that’s as brilliant as TVD? :0)

Deconstructing a story

So recently, I’ve been watching this drama called GONNA MAKE IT. It airs on Channel 8 at 9pm every weekday and will run its last episode today.

It’s been a while since a story produced by Channel 8 moved me to tears and didn’t make me cringe at the cliched plot or stilted acting or dialogue. In fact, GONNA MAKE IT is a really well-written script with a watchable cast that doesn’t entirely suck in acting. And it appears I’m not alone in the sentiment. It’s been the second highest rating show for weeks.

So I thought I would, as an audience and a writer, attempt to deconstruct this story and find out why it managed to keep me glued to the TV night after night. Laini Taylor advised the same thing too, here:

“I will suggest this homework: take the books that grip you, that give you an amazing experience, and read them as a writer. Figure out what they do, what questions they make you ask, and how they do it.”

(I know I keep mentioning Laini Taylor – it seems almost ingratiating, but I just can’t stop raving about her and her writing.)

On Wikipedia, the show falls under the genres of teens, romance, hairdressing and drama. Their synopsis is a little long, so I’ll give you the nutshell version here:

Xiaoxiao (from hereon called XX because I’m too lazy to type out her name) is a reformed delinquent with a passion for hairdressing. The story starts where she is released from prison after getting involved in a gang fight that saw her best friend stabbed to death. Eager to leave her past behind, she is on the run from her old gang of friends when she runs into Oscar, the young CEO of a prestigious salon chain, who gradually comes to recognise XX’s passion and potential to be a skilled hairdresser. As XX struggles with finding a hairdressing job because of her criminal record, Oscar decides to take a chance on her and offer her a job at one of his salons. But XX’s friends, one of whom is hopelessly infatuated with her, won’t seem to leave her alone and constantly get her into trouble. She eventually ends up disappointing Oscar and resigns in shame.

At the lowest point in her life, she meets A’man, a mercurial high-profile hairdresser who is highly sought after by A-list celebrities. A’man admires XX’s tenacity and passion for her craft and decides to nurture her talent. Despite their constant clashes at the beginning, they soon develop a profound mentor-student relationship. She is the first one who learns of his terminal illness, and agrees to keep it a secret.

To Oscar, XX is still far too mired in her past as she can’t seem to cut off all ties with her old friends. But to XX, Oscar can’t seem to look past her history. Despite all that, the two fall in love. But their relationship is not without its consequences. Oscar’s jealous cousin, Wenya, who is used to getting her way ALL THE TIME, will stop at nothing to eliminate XX from Oscar’s life, better yet if she loses everything she has and can no longer pursue her hairdressing dream.

Things to admire about the story:

1. The characters:

XX is a flawed but resilient character you want to root for all the way to the end. She makes decisions that aren’t always the best ones, and makes mistakes despite her good intentions that makes the audience sympathise with her. Plus, Julie Tan’s convincing acting plays a huge part in bringing the character to life. And to think she’s only 21! (Helps, also, that the main leads are easy on the eyes. *wink*)

And while there’s the antagonist – an outright villain, in fact – Wenya, she is not irredeemable. Her actions, while misguided, stem from an understandable motivation: to hold on to the person she loves and is in danger of losing to XX.

This story, unlike other TV addictions of mine such as THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, doesn’t rely on supernatural creatures or high-octane action to keep the audience riveted. It is character-driven – i.e. the characters are the ones driving the story forward with their desires and fears and emotions. This type of story, to me, is harder to plot than a fantasy one, but also the most rewarding to write because you bring so much of yourself to it, and the emotions come out stronger in your characters than you realise in yourself. (I hope I’m making some sense.)

2. The plot:

The writer wove subplots into the main plot like a maestro. Subplots are one thing I can never seem to wield confidently. I often start with a character and her journey, but forget about the supporting characters and THEIR stories, which often play a part in shaping the protagonist’s journey.

XX not only meets adversaries and faces difficulties in her personal life, her career is also often threatened by jealous coworkers stand between her and her hairdressing dreams. But it’s these adversities that strengthen her relationship with her mentor, A’man, and her boyfriend Oscar. Subplots are supposed to help drive the main story forward. They are separate from the main thread, but shouldn’t seem too separate. They should be woven sneakily into the story, so that everything comes together as a cohesive fabric.

My stories, however, seem piece-y, because I can’t forge a link strong enough between the main plot and subplots.

3. The pacing:

Every episode leaves the audience on a high note, and generates a lot of buzz on the Twittersphere – #gonnamakeit is one of the top trends every night – because we can’t wait to see what happens in the next episode. Because the writers have succeeded in making us care for the characters, we are invested in their lives. We want the protagonist achieve her goals, and will stick it out till the end to see that she does.

This is exactly what we need as writers, for our readers to remain glued to the book till the very last page. To have cried and laughed with the characters, to celebrate her triumphs and empathise with her struggles. To feel like they’ve read a gratifying, moving story after setting the book down. To constantly think about the characters long after they’ve finished the book. To look forward to the next story from the writer.

Speaking of which, the writer of the greatly beloved Korean drama SECRET GARDEN has created another story called HEIRS. Given how amazing SECRET GARDEN was – it remains the best Korean drama I have ever watched, and partly influenced the mood of my novel, UNTIL MORNING – I have high hopes for HEIRS.

But for now, back to more plotting for NEVERLAND, and rewriting for BLOOD PROMISE!

Thursday evening ramblings

1. What happens when a writer interviews herself? Take a look. If the interview sounds completely neurotic to you, welcome to the mind of a brilliant writer like Joyce Carol Oates.

2.

Also known as:

Now that I no longer have exams to contend with in November, I’m more than ready for NaNoWriMo. This will be the first time I’m taking part in it, even though I’ve completed a novel in a month before (LAMBS FOR DINNER) just to see if I could do it. 
I originally planned to write INDIGO TIDES for NaNo, but it’s just not coming along. I don’t see the theme of the story, can’t figure out my characters, and basically don’t understand why I want to write this story other than create pretty prose. But a novel is so much more than just pointless purple prose (sorry, couldn’t resist sticking an alliteration in there). I can’t write a story without believing in it, or feeling strongly enough about it. It has to be a story I am consumed by, whether I’m awake or asleep, where scenes pop into my mind as I brush my teeth or getting dressed, and where characters converse in my head while I’m swimming laps in the pool or on my way to work, where I think about what they would say to the things I encounter every day.
Damon Salvatore (from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) says it best: 
Yes, a love like that would be nice. But for now, a story like that would do. 
(On a sidenote, hurray for Season 5 of TVD! Something to look forward to every week again, along with SUPERNATURAL and THE ORIGINALS.)
And with a bit of luck, I woke up yesterday with a pretty much completed novel in my head and a ready-made title to go with it: NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. Yes, it’s the Peter Pan-inspired one I’ve been going on about for months. I have my characters, I have their motivations, dreams, fears and voices figured out, I have the climax for the three main acts planned, and the opening scene is just waiting for me to pound it out. Cause for the happy writer dance? I think so.

In case you need a reminder of the face that triggered my Peter Pan obsession, here it is:
 
(I admit, I might just be looking for a reason to post his pretty face here.)
3. YA writers, here’s an update on the new trends in the YA market.
I’m glad contemporary YA is making a comeback. It’s been a while since books like Sarah Dessen’s have taken up a good part of the shelves, and I’ve been searching for a simple coming of age story in which the protagonist goes through a significant transformation and growth that is gratifying to the reader, preferably with a generous dash of romance. Contemporary YA has always been and will always be my first love. I remember the book that started it all: KEEPING THE MOON by Sarah Dessen. It was the first Dessen book I read and I’ve been a fan of her ever since. Shortly after came Deb Caletti and her book, WILD ROSES, which inspired my first standalone novel that I completed in 2008 (after working on it since 2005), WHEN THE LILIES TURN ORANGE. There are certain books that change your life and influence you and your writing, and these two happen to be of the contemporary YA genre. Which is why this genre will always be my true love, despite how much fun I’m having with urban fantasy now.
But even though I agree that we need more contemporary YA now, I find it a bit of a stretch to say that the time of YA fantasy is coming to an end. While it’s true that the YA market is saturated with paranormal fiction of all things fanged, furry and/or winged, and that it’s understandable for literary agents to get weary of such stories and crave something simple and authentic and grounded in reality, something that can resonate with them and the readers, I believe that a well-crafted story, regardless of its genre, will always have a place on the bookshelf. 
Perhaps the disillusionment with the fantasy genre stems from the done-to-death formulae: forbidden love between angel and human, pact between wolf packs, average human girl is introduced to the mysterious dangerous world of handsome paranormal boy. But writers like Maggie Stiefvater have broken from the norm and created versions of this genre with their personal stamp on them. And writers like Laini Taylor have gone beyond the regular run-of-the-mill fantasy story and brought the genre to whole new levels of awesomeness, with mind-boggling plots and perfect prose and pacing and complete character arcs.
Really, all we need is just a good mix of contemporary and fantasy. Personally, when I get tired of writing contemporary, I dabble with some urban fantasy. And when I feel like I can’t take reading or writing another paranormal story, I go back to contemporary.
Maybe it’s all about shaking things up and attempting the things that you’ve never tried before and that scares you. I think I’m terrible at writing from third-person POV, which is why it’s the challenge I’m going to take on for INDIGO TIDES. For now, though, INDIGO is not the story I’m ready to tell. So I’m just sticking to my first love, what I know and love best, contemporary YA romance told from alternating first-person POVs.
Whatever genre we write in, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, “We write to create the books that we would like to read, that haven’t yet been written.” Fantasy or contemporary, we write whatever is true to us, whatever moves us; we write the story that we believe in. A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago where I find the patience to complete a novel and all I could say in response was, “If there’s a story you strongly believe in that you want to share, you WILL find the patience for it no matter how much it torments you.”
And maybe we all have a story like that in us. And we might just discover that this NaNoWriMo. Happy writing!

an update! on … tv?

Lately, I’ve been catching up on TV. And I’m not going to feel guilty about that. Because, no output without input, right? I’ve found that I get more ideas for my stories when I read or expose myself to as many narratives as I can.

So here’s what I’ve been preoccupied with:

1. SHERLOCK:

It’s a modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics, with all the essential characters (Holmes and Watson, Mycroft Holmes, Irene Adler, Mrs Hudson, Moriarty and Officer Lestrade) and their idiosyncracies. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a convincing Sherlock Holmes, and Martin Freeman brings a new depth to the character of Dr John Watson. The nineteenth century narratives are re-adapted to relevancy in the twenty-first, while retaining their original keen wit and bringing greater urgency to the story. There’ve been two seasons so far – the third will only be out next year (ye gods!) – and each season only has three hour and a half-long episode. I need some SHERLOCK already!
2. GRIMM:
Grimm’s another modern adaptation of the Grimm brothers’ classic tales, this time with detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin. Nick is a Grimm, one who descended from a long line of hunters who see monsters where normal people wouldn’t. It’s essentially a cop drama with supernatural elements, yanking out those monsters from under the bed and bringing the bad and the ugly to fairytales. So far (I’m at episode 16 of season 1), they’re still churning out the monster-of-the-week type of storyline, but there’s an overarching, more sinister (cue dramatic music), narrative thread. I was a little hesitant about this show initially, but boredom drove me to take another chance on it. And while it’s no SUPERNATURAL (I still think that show is unparallelled in screenwriting), it makes for suitable entertainment.
(Oh, and just in case you need a reminder of how amazing SUPERNATURAL is, here you go:
)
3. VAMPIRE DIARIES:
Oops, I mean this:
But the main reason is really Ian Somerhalder. Well, you know me.
I know, I know. Yet another vampire story with two pretty boys and a damsel in distress. How is this contributing to the progress of women and our cultural landscape. I did swear I will never watch this show. TWILIGHT was enough, thank you very much. (To think I had been obsessed with that franchise.) But VAMPIRE DIARIES exceeded my expectations. I took a shot at it, intending to just feast my eyes on Ian Somerhalder even if everything else is going to be disappointing, but there are some bright moments in the three episodes I’ve watched so far. Sure, there were some cliched moments (the vampire element itself is a cliche, given these times of Stephenie Meyer) and cliched phrases:

Stefan: For over a century, I have lived in secret. Hiding in the shadows, alone in the world. Until now. I’m a vampire and this is my story.
Stefan: Everything I’ve kept buried inside came rushing to the surface.

But there are also some redeeming moments like this:

Elena: People are going to stop giving you breaks, Jeremy. They just don’t care any more. They don’t remember that our parents are dead; they have their own lives to deal with. The rest of the world has moved on. You should try to.
Jeremy: I’ve seen you in the cemetery writing in your diary. Is that supposed to be you moving on?

And:

Stefan: It’s been 15 years, Damon.
Damon: Thank God! Couldn’t take another day of the 90’s. That horrible grunge look did not suit you. Remember, Stefan, it’s important to stay away from fads.

And then there’s a mix of cliches and redeeming moments:

Elena’s diary:

Dear Diary, Today will be different. It has to be. I will smile, and it will be believable. My smile will say, “I’m fine, thank you. Yes, I feel much better.” I will no longer be the sad little girl that lost her parents. I will start fresh, be someone new. It’s the only way I’ll make it through.

Dear Diary, I made it through the day. I must have said “I’m fine, thanks” at least 37 times. And I didn’t mean it once. But no one noticed. When someone asks “How are you?”, they really don’t want an answer.

Plus, they’ve got a rocking soundtrack. Ross Copperman, Ternt Dabbs, Peter Bradley Adams… Need I say more?
So I guess you can say … I’m hooked. On yet another vampire franchise. But I think it’s safe to say VAMPIRE DIARIES is better than TWILIGHT.
4. AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL CYCLE 18: BRITISH INVASION
And can I just say that this cycle’s winner is my absolute favourite so far! Sophie Sumner, from Britain’s Next Top Model Cycle 5, was second runner-up to some girl called Mecia. But her loss led her to something even better, and winning ANTM she’s gained so much more experience and the prizes are way better than those offered by BNTM.
Here’s Sophie, by the way:
Here she is rocking pink hair, which she was really excited about during the makeover on the show:
And here’s she with Emma Watson:
I’ve had several favourites on the show, like Raina Hein from cycle 14, Jane Randall from cycle 15 and Nicole Fox from cycle 13. But Sophie has to be my absolute favourite out of all the cycles I’ve watched so far. She’s smart (she’s from Oxford, which is probably how she met Emma, I’m guessing), funny and low-drama – generally a very bubbly, likeable and positive person. Like a little fairy with the spirit of a pixie. Plus, I absolutely ADORE her style. I mean, look at this dress she has on!

So that’s it on my obsessions for now. Till next time!