when existential angst seizes you on a Thursday night

WAIT.

It’s been more than A MONTH since I wrote my last blog post? Not just, I don’t know, two weeks?? Where did all that time go???

I honestly thought it’s only been at most three weeks since I last blogged. The past month, like all those before it, flew by with deadlines and events and the mad rush at work to clear my Inbox (when will I ever have zero unread mail?) and check things off the never-ending to-do list.

Every time I realise how quickly time has passed and how completely oblivious I have been about that, this suffocating sadness settles over me.

And along with it comes even more panic.

On top of worrying whether I’ve replied all the urgent emails and cleared everything flagged as top priority on my to-do list and accounted to all the relevant people, I also worry about all the time I’m wasting NOT doing the things I love or actually care about.

Sometimes, I don’t know if this anxiety and sadness (I won’t call it depression because it would discount what true depression sufferers are going through) is normal, if everyone my age feels the same way, as though we’re juggling multiple things in our lives and may lose our grasp on any one of them any second, or if things will get better as soon as I make the bold leap out of my current circumstance.

What if I’m just leaping into another big mistake?

What if this is as good as it gets, and I just need to grit my teeth and get through it?

What about all the other unexplored possibilities out there?

What am I giving up by staying in my comfort zone?

What if I sacrifice safety by venturing out?

Is there any guarantee at all for anything??

Okay, that just got way too heavy for the night. I’m not here to mope and moan again. This was supposed to be a quick update on the WIP, the short story blog, and other (frankly, nonexistent) life updates. I just got triggered by the time that has lapsed since my last post.

I’ll leave the trend-of-thought rambling for sessions with my therapist. For now, there’s always Rilke and his sagely advice

Okay, updates.

  1. On Neverland

On the writing front, I’m still working my way through draft six of NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. It’s slow-going, especially for Act II, and I understand why some of the agents I queried pointed out the saggy middle. Because the middle IS saggy. I got bored reading it, which means my readers will too.

The question, now, is how to create more tension in Act II and keep the story plodding along. And I can’t move on until this is resolved. Hence, a brief stalemate.

2. On the short story blog

The four of us have decided to take down the pace a notch over at our short story blog. I explained it in this post, but basically we felt that one short story a month, on top of other posts every week, was too hectic given our respective commitments with our day jobs, family, our own WIPs, and everything else.

So instead of a weekly short story, we’ll be posting one fortnightly. Better a short story that we’ve spent time and effort on than one that we churn out for the sake of meeting deadlines, right?

3. On life

Well, what more is there to say? I’ve been cooped up in a bubble, ricocheting between work and writing, work and writing.

Thank goodness for steadfast friends who keep me sane and are unfailingly patient, ceaselessly encouraging, and immensely kind. (And you, dear reader, for being forgiving of my liberal use of adverbs).

A friend of mine said that we, as writers, need to feed our soul in order to create stories that in turn feed others’ souls. That we shouldn’t see the time we spend not writing as wasted, but as nourishment for when we do sit down and write.

Another friend told me that we shouldn’t see life as a race to the destination. Even if we have a goal in mind, the journey itself is worth paying attention to, and we need to live in every single moment that takes us to our destination eventually, even if that means watching YouTube videos or taking a day off just to roam around the city.

(Seriously, how are my friends so wise and in the know?!)

It reminded me of a quote from one of my favourite YA authors, Sarah Dessen:

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And of course, that Rilke quote about living the questions now so that we might one day, finally, live into the answer is a timeless source of comfort.

Looking back on 2016, I was sooo hung up on not having completed a manuscript. I kept feeling like I had wasted an entire year. And I put so much pressure on myself because I told myself I have big plans for my life and can’t afford to slacken.

But if I hadn’t spent my time reading those books, watching those dramas, pursuing those ideas, attending orchestra concerts on weekends, going through the necessary angst, or giving myself the time and space to do things outside of writing (i.e. living), I wouldn’t have come up with two new novel plots that get my heart racing and my fingers itching to write every time I think about them.

Sometimes, I think my gaze is so fixed on the finish line that my view becomes entirely blinkered and I ignore everything else around me. Still working on that.

I guess what I’m trying to say, after all this rambling is, I will learn to trust in the journey. I hope you will too, dear reader, and I hope you’ll find your forever in the moments you’re living right now.

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First To-Read List for 2015!

Realistic Fiction (oxymoronic as it sounds):

1. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

I would read ANYTHING by Sarah Dessen. Ever since I first picked up Keeping the Moon when I was 14, I was sold.

Saint Anything didn’t come by smoothly for the writer. Sarah struggled with a story that was going nowhere, and was miserable when she wrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it again. It’s hard to churn out a novel a year, and after writing more than ten books in the same genre, I guess she got a little burnt out. But I’m so glad she took a break, because Saint Anything looks SO GOOD, slightly different and darker than her usual books.

2. Made You Up, by Francesca Zappia

Ever since E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars wrecked me emotionally, I’ve been looking for more stories told by unreliable narrators. Plus, Made You Up also involves mental illness, another theme I gravitate towards. And the cover art! How pretty!

3. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

This book is touted as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park, a “love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die”. Even though I found E&P a little over-dramatic at times, I’m holding out on the hope that this won’t be as overplayed.

4. The Howling Boy, by Cath Crowley

This book is a mystery. No cover art yet, or confirmed publishing date. But after reading – and rereading, and re-rereading – the magical, bittersweet, poignant, inspiring Graffiti Moon, this book CANNOT come soon enough.

Fantasy:

1. Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

More stories from the Grishaverse (that’s Grisha universe, by the way). YES, PLEASE! I’m still savouring the final installment of the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising, so it won’t end so soon. So more Grisha tales are definitely welcome.

2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

Faeries, monster-slaying children, fairy-tale retelling. What’s not to love? And knowing Holly Black, it would be dark and sinister and all kinds of delicious.

3. Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

OMG OMG OMG. I have never been this psyched for a book to be released before –

Okay, well that’s not true. But this is definitely one of the books I’m properly excited about. I mean, just read the blurb. COME ON. Does it not want to make you read it already?! I can only hope it won’t disappoint, because I am all ready to sink my teeth into this juicy novel.

4. Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen

I love how fairytale-ish the premise is, yet how real and current the protagonist’s conflict is, with an age-old curse and an absentee mother. “The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast … unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.” Okay, I’m on board.

What’s on YOUR To-Read list for 2015?

By the way, I am HOOKED on Aussie YA, thanks to incredible writers like Cath Crowley, Lucy Christopher, Melina Marchetta, Karen Foxlee, and Vikki Wakefield. There must be something in those Australian waters that lets them churn out such dreamy prose and create such relatable characters. If anyone has any recommendations, please share the good stuff! :0)

when good books need more face time: in support of under-rated YA titles and genres

Over at her blog, New York Times best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson talks about the popularising of certain genres in YA (namely, the dude-ification of YA – also known as the John Green effect) and the oversight of others.

 

And here’s her suggestion:

I’d like to see everyone who is pissed off about the uneven coverage of YA books (and authors) to call The Damn Media on the carpet and tell them what they are doing wrong. Gather the contact information of the reporters, editors, editorial boards, and corporate owners of media outlets that are writing skewed or under-informed pieces about YA literature and share them publicly. Share what you write to them. Contact Hollywood peeps and tell them about other great books that could be movies.

Then seek out and talk and blog and vlog and shout about the books and authors that The Damn Media is not talking about yet.

 

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Hear, hear.

 

Often, due to limited bookshelf space, bookstores only bring in popular titles or titles from popular writers or genre. For instance, Stephen King is a mainstay. So is Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham and the like.

 

And in recent years, YA fantasy – particularly vampire novels – got a lot of attention, which I call “the Twilight effect”. After that, bookstores mostly brought in books centred around vampires and other supernatural creatures. Which is why most of the Young Adult section is filled with books in the fantasy genre. Veronica Roth, Carrie Ryan, Kimberly Derting, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, Gayle Forman, etc.

 

 

Nothing wrong with those writers or their books, of course. We should all be glad there are now so much YA books out there as compared to ten years ago.

 

But demand begets supply, after all. If bookstores find that more people are reading vampire novels, they’d bring in more vampire novels. But then if vampire novels are the only sort of books found in bookstores, the only sort of books available, the only sort taking up most of the space on bookshelves, then where do the others go? There are many more books out there than those about vampires or angels or zombies or werewolves.

 

 

Of course, this is hyperbolic, since vampire novels aren’t the ONLY sort found in bookstores. I’m just saying, this narrows down the space available for other types of books, like contemporary. Unless you’re a stalwart like Sarah Dessen or Deb Caletti,

 

 

 

or a super-hot breakout author like Rainbow Rowell,

 

 

 

chances are your books aren’t going to get much exposure or reach out to your readers as much as you would like.

 

Kelly Jensen posits the same thing over at her blog:

 

Readers generally see the [New York Times] List as a status symbol, but it’s that status symbol that influences bookstores in terms of what they’re putting on shelves and what books get exposure and more exposure and thus more push and more face time and do you see where I’m going?

This isn’t about taking someone out. It’s about how to lift others up and have their stories and voices heard and seen, too. If what people see on shelves is the same thing, then we’ll continue to get the same thing through the market. We’ll continue to have those sold to us and marketed to us and while they’re not BAD, they’re reductive and limiting and offer us fewer and fewer choices.

 

So if there’s a book that you really like but you feel is completely under-rated, recommend it to a friend, and have that friend recommend it to another friend. Word of mouth is the best form of publicity when it comes to books.

 

Or, better yet:

 

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Fangirl/boy about it. If you love a book, go nuts about it. Trust me, you’ll make the author’s day. Plus, more people will get to enjoy that book and you won’t be alone in your fangirl/boying. That’s why I always rave about the books I love.

 

For some reason, there are a lot of best-selling titles I’ve never been into, like the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I have nothing against these writers – they’re obviously doing something right if so many people enjoy their books – but I’m just not into dystopian fiction or sci-fi.

 

 

What I do wish to see more of in bookstores, however, are books like those from Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti and Cath Crowley. Contemporary YA with flawed, REAL protagonists who learn to be strong and kind and accepting of themselves and others. Contemporary YA with quiet, beautiful prose that creates a storm of emotions in the reader. Contemporary YA that allows us to learn more about ourselves and the world.

 

 

from The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen

 

from Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti

 

from Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

 

from Graffiti Moon

 

And where YA fantasy is concerned, more character-driven stories like Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, or epic ones like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor (but hers is just too perfect, in terms of plot and prose – practically in a league of its own – we can’t expect every writer to write like her) should totally get more attention. Not that they aren’t already. The writing speaks for itself, I always say.

 

But first, the books need to be able to reach their readers.

 

What are some books or genres that you think deserve more attention and appreciation than they are receiving?

8 swoon-worthy male characters in YA fiction

Yes, I am unabashedly in love with Young Adult (YA) fiction.

I think adolescence is a wonderful period to write about because the characters are at the most pivotal stage of their lives, still impressionable enough to change for better or for worse as they try to find and define themselves with a particular identity. In fact, some of the characters in YA have been the most memorable ones for me. Some of them also made me fall head-over-heels in love with them because of how layered and conflicted and real they are.

In YA fiction, as Laini puts forth here in this powerful post in defence of YA (it’s awesome – go read it!), “the subject matter is vast, and transcend all genre borders.”

Plus, as this post argues, “the attraction isn’t just related to the fact that young adult novels tend to have faster-paced narratives. Many of these crossover “teen” novels are satisfying to adult readers because they tap into ageless themes, namely the sense that each of us longs to know who we really are in a strange, confusing and sometimes otherworldly world. As it turns out, the search for self is a lifelong one.”

Okay, serious stuff out of the way, here’s a list of boys in YA fiction that I’ve swooned and gushed over, and been irrationally legitimately obsessed with:

1. Wes from The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen

Still my favourite Sarah Dessen book, despite subsequent ones such as What Happened to Goodbye and Lock and Key that are just as beautifully written. Forever is something special, maybe because I can relate to the protagonist, Macy, so well, since she’s really close to her father and afraid of meeting new people too.

Who? Wes is your regular boy-next-door who prizes honesty – to everyone else and to yourself – above everything else.

Why? He looks for imperfections, appreciates them, even craves them. This is evident from the art he makes. (Yes, a boy who makes art. What’s not to love, right?) He uses scrap materials like wood and glass to create beautiful display pieces that are perfect in their imperfection.

Plus, he’s infinitely patient with his nerdy, overwrought little brother, Bert. Oh, and he helped the protagonist, Macy, move on from the death of her father. Yes, he’s a patient one. Perhaps boys who make art are usually this way?

Also, he is everything Macy needs to break out of her comfort zone (albeit with baby steps). He is responsible, reliable, has a great sense of humour and never gives up on you. It doesn’t feel stressful in his company.

In short,

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2. Sam from Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

Oh, Shiver. How I love you! I wish I could kiss you and have you turn into a boy as beautiful at heart and as sweet as Sam. The prose is honey and clove, bittersweet but not too cloying, and the setting just as heartbreakingly beautiful. I don’t think I’ve read another YA fantasy romance that made my heart swell and flutter and do all sorts of gymnastic feats the way Shiver had.

Quote from Shiver
Sam and Grace artwork for the book

Who? Sam is a sweet, soulful boy who turns into a werewolf when the weather dips and is desperately trying to cling on to his human form to be with the girl he loves. Also, he’s a little damaged: (*SPOILER ALERT*) when his parents found out he was a wolf when he was younger, they tried to slit his wrist and drown him in the bathtub. (Yes, lovely people, they are.)

Why? He writes poetry. He writes songs. He reads. He works at a bookstore. He reads Rilke (OH, RILKE!). He’s damaged, but is capable of love. He loves life, cherishes it, because of how fragile his humanity is. Need I say more?

3. Ian Waters from Wild Roses, by Deb Caletti

My favourite novel from Deb Caletti so far. Also the first one from her that I read. I loved the prose, the narrator’s voice, the romance, the drama of the entire story … but mostly, I loved Ian.

Who? Ian is the protege of world-renowned violin maestro, the brilliant but disturbed Dino Cavalli, who is also the step-father of the protagonist Cassie.

Why? He plays the violin. He has a great sense of humour, totally on the same wavelength as Cassie. He is never attention-seeking or complacent – much less cocky – despite his talent. He’s like snow that lands on the ground silently but beautifully. He’s the first character named Ian I had ever known, and his image will always go with that name for me.

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4. Mik from Night of Cake and Puppets, by Laini Taylor

Night is a novella from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini.

You would think I’d be all over Akiva, the seraph warrior who is pretty much perfection embodied. But human Mik was who I fell for instead. Particularly in Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to Daughter, where Mik and Zuzana traipsed through the desert to find Karou, Mik was always attentive to Zuze, and very concerned about her well-being (is she dehydrated? bone-tired? in need of a good sleep?).

Plus, he and Zuze ended up being pals with the chimaera soldiers, who are basically animal hybrids. Monsters. They play well with monsters. Well, which monster can resist Mik’s sweet looks and manners?

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Who? Mik is the violinist with the dark, soulful eyes and flushed cheeks whom Zuzana is crazy about, and who turns out to be crazy about her too.

Why? He plays the violin. (I’m sensing a trend here.) He surprises her with cake and tea on an impromptu date on a rowboat. He gets her quirks, loves her for them, and comes with a few himself too (peacock footprints, anyone?).

5. Cole from The Road of the Deadby Kevin Brooks

I read this book waaaay back in 2005, but I remember how smitten I was with him, because he was a bad boy who was very protective of his younger brother.

Who? Your quintessential bad boy, Cole is the older brother of the narrator, Ruben. He gets into fights often, but fights for the people he loves.

Why? Because we all love a bad boy with a heart of gold. At least in fiction.

6. Michael Moscovitz from the Princess Diaries series, by Meg Cabot

I know there are people who scoff at the series for being about a self-indulgent teenage girl who uses way too many exclamation marks, but this series was what made me start keeping a journal when I was 11 years old and for that I’ll always be grateful to Meg Cabot. There is nothing quite as cathartic as putting your thoughts onto paper.

Who? Brother of Mia’s best friend, Michael has had a crush on Mia forever, back when she hadn’t ascended to royalty status.

Robert Schwartzman, who played the character in the screen adaptation

Why? He wrote a song for her, Tall Glass of Water. He supports her in her writing endeavours, is always eager to read what she writes, and gives sound, thoughtful feedback. He’s really smart, but works his ass off to amount to something he deems worthy of Her Royal Highness, even if she doesn’t care about their status difference.

Plus, his name just rolls off your tongue.

7. Luke Brandon from the Shopaholic series, by Sophie Kinsell

Okay, this one’s not YA, but come on, isn’t Luke swoon-worthy?

Hugh Dancy’s pretty eyes aside, Luke has many qualities to love. I mean, he married Rebecca Bloomwood, for heaven’s sake! Only a saint has that kind of patience. (No offence to Becky – I love her, but she can be tiresome at times.)

Who? Luke is the boyfriend – and later, husband – of Becky Bloomwood, a shopping addict and a pathological liar, but also a very loyal friend.

Why? He doesn’t do grand gestures of love, but you can always tell he loves Becky. Besides, he puts up with Becky, LOVES her despite her crazy antics. Enough said, don’t you think?

8. Jace Wayland/Lightwood/Morgenstern/Herondale from The Mortal Instruments series, by Cassandra Clare

Okay, I watched the movie before I finished reading the book, so the first face that comes to mind is Jamie Campbell Bower’s. Which does not hurt at all.

Jamie + Lily = Jamily. They are SO cute together!

Who? Snarky, handsome, lofty and insouciant, Jace is a demon-hunting Shadowhunter. Also, a boy in need of love who failed to get any from his father.

Jace artwork

Why? He’s the unattainable golden boy at school, the one whom everyone loves or loves to hate. He’s gorgeous, strong, attractive and he knows it. But his confidence – though some would say arrogance – is to mask the broken, wanting boy within.

And as a shameless plug bonus,

9. Drew from Lambs for Dinner, by, um, me.

Who? Cole has a history of being abused by his father before he ran away from home. He is loyal to his friends and closest to his aunt, regards his best friend’s father as his surrogate father, but keeps everyone else at arm’s length.

Why? Because despite his (initial) belief that he is too damaged, too different, to love, that he is more Wolf than Man, deep down he desperately wants to believe that he is not only capable of it, he is also deserving of it. Which is why he gives his all to Skye, when he falls hard for her.

Also, because I wrote him. Ha!

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So that’s my list of swoon-worthy boys from YA fiction. Let me know if there’s anything I missed out, in terms of characters or the things they did to make us fall in love with them!

Who are some of YOUR favourite boys from YA fiction? :0)