UNTIL MORNING

until morning 2

18-year-old Lexi Keen has found her soul-mate. The problem is, she has never met Night, the elusive street artist who leaves his paintings in the nooks and crannies of the city.

Still, that doesn’t stop her from penning letters to him and dreaming about living in his paintings – until she finds herself in his painting, after a car accident that sees her ending up in a coma. But in her mind she is wandering through Night’s paintings and her childhood memories. Her only companion: Sam, a straight-laced boy who is the total opposite of Night.

As Lexi and Sam escape into their dreams, they find themselves unwilling to leave and question what they are really awake for.

UNTIL MORNING is a 74,000 word YA magical realism romance.

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It’s time for #PitMad again!

Image from Middle Grade Mafia

It’s harder than you’d expect, writing pitches no longer than 140 characters that are supposed to summarise your stories and entice agents to ask to read the full manuscript. But here’s the final product for BLOOD PROMISE, NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, and UNTIL MORNING:

Just a couple of hours into PitMad (it started at 8pm and ended at 8am for me because time difference is not on my side) and there were already more than 400 tweet pitches. Can you imagine the total number of tweets in 12 hours?? How is an agent supposed to sieve through all that? The odds are high, but good thing there are some agents who tweet the following:

So writer friends, did you #PitMad? :0)

To-Read List for May!

It’s a magical realism feast this month, in both contemporary and historical fiction. I’m liking this trend VERY MUCH.

Roald Dahl

Magical realism is such an unexplored genre (as compared to, say, crime and mystery) and I really love how it brings the fantastical into real life and stretches your imagination to accept the strange and the wondrous things that happen every day. That’s probably why I wrote Until Morning – and now No Room in Neverland – because I wanted so badly to read something set in the real world that contained romance and magic.

Speaking of Until Morning, I’ve decided to go the crowd-source route and post it up on Swoon Reads (which published a lovely contemporary romance novel A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall). You can read it (and rate and share if you enjoyed it!) here. And if you need an idea of what it’s about, here’s a teaser:

Lexi Keen has found her soul-mate, although she has never met Night, the elusive street artist who leaves his paintings around the city.

Still, that doesn’t stop her from penning letters to him – until she finds herself living in his paintings after a car accident lands her in a coma. In her mind she is wandering through Night’s paintings. Her only companion: a boy who doesn’t understand why he is trapped there with her and wants to leave.

Sam Young is trying to make sense of the dreams he has been having of late, dreams in which he meets the irreverent, free-spirited Lexi. When his father’s latest development project involves taking over the inn that Lexi’s father owns, Sam has to choose between his loyalties to his father and staying with Lexi in the dream, safe from reality.

So anyway, I’m really looking forward to this month’s haul. Yay for magical realism and contemporary fiction! That’s not to say fantasy is a dying genre, but I think readers as a whole are now looking to take a break from all that supernatural good-versus-evil stuff for a while and go back to something closer to the heart. Even agents I’ve queried have told me they’re not representing fantasy because the market’s too saturated and people are veering away from the genre at the moment.

To Read:

1. Magonia, by Maria Dahvana Headley

2. Girl At Midnight, by Melissa Grey

3. Above Us Only Sky, by Michele Young-Stone

4. Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby

5. The Cost of All Things, by Maggie Lehrman

6. Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira

7. Love Fortunes and Other Disasters, by Kimberly Karalius

I can’t stop fangirling over these books. I mean, HAVE YOU READ THEIR BLURBS? ARE YOU NOT PROPERLY EXCITED ABOUT THEM ALREADY? Ships in the sky, memory erasure (coincidentally, I’ve been working on a short story about memory erasure too), Lithuanian bird-women, pickpockets in black markets and missing people. This is while I love reading and creating stories. There are so many exhilarating possibilities that set your mind on fire, so many stories that fill you with ideas and life.

And of course, there’s LANGUAGE itself. Prose. The stringing of words to form beautiful, heart-breaking sentences with rhythm and music.

From Magonia:

“I’m dark matter. The universe inside of me is full of something, and science can’t even shine a light on it. I feel like I’m mostly made of mysteries.”

“I know everyone has dreams of flying, but this isn’t a dream of flying. It’s a dream of floating, and the ocean is not water but wind.
I call it a dream, but it feels realer than my life.”

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Breathe, Joyce, breathe.

Currently Reading:

1. Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

SO GOOD. The execution, the plot (and plot twists), the prose – all skillfully done. If I HAD to nitpick, I’d say that my connection with the characters isn’t as strong as the one with Alina and Mal from the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Those two (plus Nikolai Lantsov) got me swooning and dancing and grinning and spazzing. Red Queen, while nicely done, doesn’t send me reeling. But this is probably subjective and different for every reader. This book is still HIGHLY recommended!

2. Before My Eyes, by Caroline Bock

Two words: mental illness. I’m a sucker for any story that deals with issues like this, especially anything creepy or disturbing or psychologically messed up and sheds some light on people dealing with the demons in their heads. Plus, it’s told in alternative POV and it reminds me a lot of Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn and *ahem* Lambs for Dinner by me.

Queued:

1. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

2. Friday Brown, by Vikki Wakefield

What’s on YOUR reading list this month? Recommendations always welcome! :0)

on rejections letters and class gatherings

Another rejection letter, this time straight from the publisher itself. But gutting as it is, it’s a PERSONALISED rejection letter. Which means FEEDBACK.

It’s hard to get feedback as a writer. Aside from the handful of earnest and objective critics (LOVE YOU GUYS!), most people are either too busy to read your book, or they’re too afraid to critique it in case they offend you, or they don’t give the type of feedback you’re looking for.

For instance:

 

Me: So what did you think?

Reader: It was pretty good.

Me: What did you like or dislike about it? Any bits where the story dragged on or didn’t make sense?

Reader: It was exciting enough to make me read on.

Me: What about the characters? Could you relate to them or empathise with them? 

Reader: I liked xxx. He needs his own spinoff.

 

And so on.

So even if it’s a rejection letter, I’m thankful for the feedback.

 

Joyce, 

Thank you for your interest in BookFish Books! Unfortunately, we cannot move forward with UNTIL MORNING at this time. It’s hard to know where to start without feedback, so here is some of ours:

We loved the portions with Night, but the portions with Lexi did not capture our attention. Some of the dialogue felt too formal for the YA genre, particularly in the Lexi sections. Also, for YA, the traditionally accepted length is 40-60K words, with a bit of flexibility on either end. 

I personally am sad to be passing on this one because I really wanted to know more about Night.

If you want to do a revise and resubmit on the changes we suggested, we’d be happy to take a fresh look at in the future.

All the best,

Erin

 

Of course, this is still my general response to it:

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But, you know, after YEARS of receiving rejection letters, you sort of heal faster and soon you’re just like,

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And that was what I did for the entire afternoon before going for my class gathering on Saturday. For Blood Promise, that is.

MORE CHANGES:

1. Changed Ian’s parentage and identity

2. Killed off a character

3. Changed the speech style of one character

4. Tweaked the history of the island and took a deeper look at its customs and language (thanks to the suggestions my Super Critic Partner, Jenna, gave)

 

With that done, I psyched myself up for the class gathering.

Is it just me or do you get gripped by social anxiety before every gathering? It doesn’t matter that you know those people are nice, or that this isn’t the first time you’ve met up with them, but before every meeting with someone other than your family members, you just seize up with panic and worry. It’s like a reflex reaction to the word “social” or “gathering” or “meetup” or “human interaction”.

No? Just me? Okay then.

I mean, at first you’re like, This might be fun! I need some human contact.

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Because, you know,

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But then you start wondering if you annoyed them with your incessant Facebook and Twitter updates, and if they’re like all

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And pretty soon you’re like, I’m never going to be normal. They’ll hate me.

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But then you try to convince yourself you’re worrying about nothing and you’ve known those people for ages and hello, they’re NICE.

So you SHOW THE HELL UP and start working those rusty people skills.

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But then you sort of get the hang of this human interaction thing after a while and you’re like

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So here’s us (13 years on!) in a terribly grainy photo thanks to my phone:

Yes, I survived human interaction and I actually enjoyed it loads. Till the next gathering, guys!

Hope you’re having a good start to the week! :0)

a few things before I fly off

Ugh, packing. Travelling would be a lot more fun if we didn’t have to care about the nitty-gritty details like how many pairs of socks to bring or whether we’ve bought travel-sized cleansers or how much money to exchange blabbity blah blah blah.

Anyway, I’ll be gone until 29 March, so be prepared for photo-dumping when I get around to blogging on the 31st!

And so I shall leave you with these happy things:

Plus, you get to swim ALL DAY. Heaven.
Speaking of whom,

Now you know what I do when I’m trying to put off writing the novel.

It is that easy.
And in celebration of finally finishing the final final FINAL (no, really – FINAL) draft of Until Morning, here’s something that my characters kept going on about:
The soft colours at the corners of the world

The exact words were:

“There are times when all magic in the
world seems possible: in dreams, in a story, a painting, in the hour between
night and day when the light at the corners of the world appears the softest. I
call them the soft hours. They are ones that you cling on to long after you
wake up, long after you grow up.”

~ Lexi, Until Morning

In related news, I’m starting to query agents again so FINGERS CROSSED!!!

I really wish for Until Morning to reach you guys. I loved writing it,
and it would be the – sorry for the cliche – biggest dream come true if
it got published on an international platform.

 
Pink makes everything look better

And finally, but most importantly,

Have a great weekend guys! I’ll be back when I get back :0)

metaphorical roller coasters … and something called Tinder?

Jennifer Crusie offered some great advice on keeping the dream alive (and reality at arm’s length):

… what separates the successful writers with long term careers from those who don’t make it is that the successful writers have the perception that they’re in control, that if they keep going, somebody will finally see the greatness of their stories.

So you’re building your island based on unrealistic dreams and convictions made of thin air. What’s the worst that can happen? You never get published or the book of your heart tanks, and you never reach your goal, but at the end of your life you look back and say, “I had a dream and I fought for it, I believed in myself and my work, and I never, ever gave up.” That’s a life well lived, folks, a helluva lot better than, “I had a dream but it wasn’t realistic so I quit and watched television.” Do not let reality push you around, do not be sensible and kill your own dreams, and for the love of God do not let people who are only guessing about what’s going to happen next tell you that you’re a fool for believing in yourself and your stories.

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Thank you for sharing this post, Laini, and thank you for writing it, Jennifer! (Loved Wild Ride, by the way.)

This is such timely* advice, given how I’m SERIOUSLY losing steam for Neverland. It’s so tempting to want to toss it aside and not think about this train wreck anymore, but then you read such upbeat posts and you reconsider that notion.

*Even though the post was published waaaaay back in 2005 – I got directed there from Laini’s old posts** Hey, never too late for some encouragement.

**Why yes, I’ve read all the way back to 2006. Obsessed, you say?***

***I can’t hear you.

Right now, it kinda feels like this:

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I was looking through Until Morning last night and I realised what is amiss as I write Neverland: the magic.

Not in the literal sense (although Until Morning and the Neverland differ in that sense too). No. What I mean is that feeling of being pulled into the story, until I’m scrambling to put all my thoughts into words, typing feverishly as the story sweeps me towards the final scene.

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That feeling of knowing your characters so well that they become an extension of yourself, and you realise the characters were inside you all along, banging against your chest, clamouring to be let out.

That feeling where you know their stories so well that their problems become yours, and their actions and motivations lead neatly up to the final act.

That feeling at the end where everything comes into place in the end and makes sense and you can finally see what the hell your story was meant to look like. And you’re so psyched you’re pretty much like this:

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That feeling. That huge whoosh that takes you right from the start to the end. That eagerness to write. To discover. That was how it was with Until Morning**** I had FUN writing Until Morning. But for Neverland … not so much. Maybe it was that magical element that made writing Until Morning more fun (Until Morning is contemporary YA with a touch of magical realism). But I’ve written realistic YA before, and it didn’t feel as uninspiring as Neverland.

****Or is it just post-novel selective amnesia, where I only remember the good bits from writing the completed novel and not the bad parts? Is there even such a thing???

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I know I’ve bitched and moaned about this enough in my previous posts, and the last thing you want to read is another lament on flat, limpid characters and a plot that’s meandering nowhere. I get it. Like, get it together already, woman! Believe me, there is nothing I would like to do more than that.

So that’s that on the writing front. I’ll let you know if anything changes.

*

So apparently, there’s this new app called Tinder, which looks like another dating app but supposedly isn’t, because you get to look at Facebook profiles (the app is linked to Facebook) of people (set preferred gender) around you (set radius)…

And then you swipe right if you are interested and left if you’re not. If the person you swiped right for shows mutual interest, you two will be automatically mated for life put to chat.

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Put bluntly, it’s pretty much man-shopping based on profile pictures. Way to encourage people to judge based on appearances – like I don’t already do that on my own.

I told my (single) girlfriends about this app (why is it called Tinder anyway?), and they seem to be having more fun with it than I am. I don’t know, maybe I’m more into serendipitous encounters than casual conversations on a cellphone. You know, more Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop and all that, instead of You’ve Got Mail.

Yeah, I’m aware that if I keep waiting for a chance encounter with a handsome, sweet and funny stranger at my usual hideouts I will probably end up like this:

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Ah well. For now, I’m keeping busy. Neverland, be kind to me!

At least I have him in mind for Peter Pan.

Besides, so many books, so little time! Right now, I’m reading this:

Night of Cake and Puppets, a Daughter of Smoke and Bone novella by Laini Taylor

SO MUCH LOVE for this! Unlike DOSAB, it’s written in first-person POV, and alternates between Karou’s crazy, tiny, fierce, funny best friend Zuzana and her crush, sweet, shy, talented violin-playing Mik. The prose is pretty, lovely, funny and completely Laini, if you read her blog.

Here’s a snippet I love:

Snow flurries
Rose bush
Light vines

See how her prose sets off so many visuals in your mind? The words may look dull on the page, but with the right dose of imagination they can come so completely alive and paint such a vivid picture. I just can’t get enough of her pretty imagery!

After Night of Cake and Puppets, there’s Blackbringer and Silksinger. But then I want – no, need – to reread Days of Blood and Starlight before April (i.e. Dreams of Gods and Monsters) comes along.

Damn. Those titles. Epic or what?

Have a great weekend!

too many books, too little time

With so many fantasy and urban fantasy series in the market these days, sometimes you just DESPERATELY crave for some good old contemporary fiction. With real characters you want to root for and real problems you can relate to and real insights you can apply to your own life and real lessons to live by.

So I scoured Goodreads (despite the flak on author-bullying the site has gotten recently, I still love it for its user-friendly layout, enthusiastic reader community and comprehensive info on the books) for some contemporary young adult fiction.

And those literary agents, book editors and publishers weren’t kidding when they said contemporary fiction is on the rise again. I found SO many enticing contemporary YA books I’m seriously wondering if I can ever finish them.

Here’s a list of the top 10 books I’m dying to read.

Contemporary YA books to read (click on the links to read the blurbs):

1. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve read only great things about this breakout author (she’s the 2013 Goodreads Choice Award winner for Best YA Fiction!) and after browsing her books in Kinokuniya last weekend I was SO tempted to buy all her books. The mood of the story and narrator voice kind of remind me of 500 Days of Summer – whimsical and light-hearted with a dash of poignancy.

Plus, FANGIRL. Hello, what better character to relate to?

Ahem.

Anyway, I have high hopes for this book.

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2. Where the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller

Gotta love a good coming-of-age story about a girl coming into herself despite the adverse conditions she was brought up in.

3. Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira

I’m starting to get into epistolary fiction. Letters are a great plot device for moving the story along and revealing insights about a character. In fact, my novel Until Morning wouldn’t be the same – or complete – without the letters Lexi writes to Night, or Sam writes to Lexi. There is just so much about a character you can reveal from the intimate letters he writes to someone special.

4. What I Thought Was True, by Huntley Fitzpatrick

I read her debut novel, My Life Next Door, and really appreciated her effortless writing style, genuine character voice, and the circumstances in the story that didn’t seem contrived or melodramatic. Some people say it’s too fluffy, and gets draggy towards the end, but I think it’s a sweet and refreshing voice. So, next book – on my To Read list!

5. Night of Cake and Puppets, by Laini Taylor

Okay, this is cutting it close, since it’s a spin-off novella from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which is pretty much high fantasy as far as I know. Still, Zuzana and Mik’s love story should be monster-free, since they, unlike Karou, are completely human and don’t have a secret past (no spoilers here! This is a spoiler-free zone).

6. The Last Forever, by Deb Caletti

I mean, come on. It’s Deb Caletti. I’ve read pretty much every book she has ever written (aside from her latest, He’s Gone, which is adult fiction), and she has never disappointed. Sure, I have my favourites, and some that I love more than others. But Caletti’s prose is unpretentious, and her characters are so painfully real, their relationships at times so delicate and at times so explosive, they make the stories incredibly compelling. Wild Roses will always have a special place in my heart, but I’m definitely looking forward to this upcoming one.

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7. Wild Awake, by Hilary T. Smith

I think this excerpt is reason enough to read the book:

“People are like cities: We all have alleys and gardens and secret rooftops and places where daisies sprout between the sidewalk cracks, but most of the time all we let each other see is is a postcard glimpse of a skyline or a polished square. Love lets you find those hidden places in another person, even the ones they didn’t know were there, even the ones they wouldn’t have thought to call beautiful themselves.”

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I’M IN LOOOOOVE!

Also, mental illness, tonnes of imagery, coming-of-age story about a girl coping with her sister’s disappearance? I NEED THIS BOOK NOW!

So many books, so little time. Where to begin? Still, if you have any good books to recommend I ain’t saying no to them, because

Also, I’ve moved on to Act 2 for No Room in Neverland! Wheeee! The plot thickens and I can’t seem to stop cackling while doing the happy writer dance.

Okay, I’ll explain. Unlike what I’ve done for my previous novels, where I just plunged into the novel after drawing up a plan for the entire novel and plotted chapters all the way to the middle of the story, this time I decided to write the first draft in script form before rewriting it in prose form. For one, it saves time, since crafting prose takes me more time and effort than writing a script  – I can’t stop obsessing over each single word. For another, writing the first draft in script form allows me to visualise the entire story before I get down to it proper – it’s sort of like a testing ground for me to get to know my characters and the world they live in before writing their story.

I’m trying this method because of my experience with Until Morning. As you know, it started out as a script for my play-writing class. I wrote the first few scenes and then decided to turn it into a novel, and those chapters for which I had the pre-written scenes flowed much easily – I pounded out 10 pages (about 2500 words) in 3 hours.

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So hopefully writing Neverland will be a less angsty process than writing the others. At least I can tackle the mid-story goblin without worrying about prose. And goodness knows that sneaky little bastard is creeping up on me now.

Good times back in Act 1 Scene 11:

Still, I keep telling myself to dig deep. Gouge out everything inside your characters and serve them on a plate, innards and all, and then play with it. (Why yes, I’m PG-13 that way. Why do you ask?)

On a more family-friendly note:

If I had to sum up my main character, Gemma, in one quote, this would be it.