Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cookie-Cutter Books

I often hear people advise writers to write for themselves, and I certainly see why this would be important. It's about writing what they believe in, what they want to talk about rather than what everyone else is saying they need to write. But I wonder how many people do this faithfully, even when they choose to write against what has proven popular/successful.

The analogy I always use is an mmorpg (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) that I used to play. In the game, many people found that there were certain "specs" (basically spells or abilities players would pick at the sacrifice of others) that were highly effective when, say, fighting against other players.

These were called "cookie-cutter" specs, because they were nearly identical to one another and didn't leave room for creativity--but they were effective because they utilized the most powerful spells/abilities and avoided the weaker ones.

And I think books are a lot like that. There are things, plot devices or formulas, that have been very successful, and a lot of books go the route of using them instead of taking a risk with the road less traveled. And that creates a bit of a dilemma.

Some writers do write for themselves, but there are those that write for their audience. Their goal is to entertain the audience and to make them love the book, maybe even at the risk of writing something that has been overdone to the point of becoming a cliche. But fans love these stories. So does writing something uninspired that appeals to the masses make someone less of a storyteller? Or does it make him a good one because he puts his audience's needs first?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Consistent Writing

I take no pride in the fact that I'm one of the biggest procrastinators around. So of course, it's no surprise that procrastination affects the writing aspect of my life as much as it does anything else - or at least, it used to. I've found ways to work around that and to be productive so that I never allow myself to slack off with my writing.

Here are a few things that have helped me:

1) Plan out how long you want to spend writing a manuscript. If it's within three months, figure out the minimum number of words you can do per day to reach that goal. E.g. 1000 words per day = 30,000 per month = 90,000 total. This gives you a concrete idea of the pace and helps you use your time wisely. Of course the numbers will vary day to day, but:

2) Always try to meet the goal you've set for yourself. Don't tell yourself "I'll make up for it tomorrow", because you might not feel like writing tomorrow either. Once you start putting things off, it will be all the more harder to get back up to speed.

3) If you're certain you can't meet your goal, write something. That way, you won't fall behind as much and you'll still keep up the habit. And if you're lucky, you might get into the writing mood while squeezing out what little you can, and reach your goal.

4) If you feel like exceeding your daily quota, do so. Self-explanatory.

5) Figure out what time of day works best for you. Some people like to write first thing in the morning, others have to wait until they get home at night. But by selecting a specific time to write each day, you make it easier for yourself to stay focused and not procrastinate.

6) Use external motivation as well as internal. We all want to see the fruits of our labor, but unfortunately, writing is normally solitary work. So the only one who will reward you will be you. Make the process more enjoyable for yourself with incentives. Or you could:

7) Create more immediate deadlines for yourself. If you have a critique partner, you can set up deadlines for one another (such as exchanging chapters twice a week).

8) Monitor your progress. Periodically calculate how far you've come along and how long it's taken you to get there. This not only helps you keep track of things, it can also give you an idea of whether your system works, or if it needs to be reworked.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Imaginary Addiction

I've been having a lot of dreams lately, or at least, dreams that I can remember, since there's the possibility we have hundreds or thousands of false realities running through our minds every night and we only remember one or two (or so I always say without any proof whatsoever). My dreams these days are so life-like, compared to the ones I've had in the past that are so farfetched my dream self immediately knows there's no way in hell they could ever be real.

"I have a dinosaur for a pet? Totally normal! Now where did that Wolverine go..."

And it doesn't take much to cause these dreams. I'll hear something on the news or in an article and the next thing I know, it's turned into a full-blown episode starring me and whatever happened to pass through my mind that day.

Which is how I became an addict one night.

I don't smoke. I never have, and I don't see myself ever having the urge to fill my lungs with smoke and reduce my lifespan by about 10 years. But if you'd seen me in that dream a few nights ago, you would think I was hopelessly hooked on it.

How did it all start? With a single remark someone made to me. Something along the lines of, "Smoking is more trendy in Europe than the States." Which made me go, "Huh." That was the end of it.

Until my brain decided to run with it and turn me into an addict.

"Teehee. Hey, Lefty, I've got a great idea for a prank. All we gotta do is wait until she falls asleep."

The dream was...awful. I craved a smoke so badly that I camped out in front of a gas station all day (or night?) going through obstacle after obstacle in a desperate effort to get my hands on a single cigarette.

Of course, as is the infuriating case with all dreams, I woke up before I could achieve my goal and for one single moment afterward, I could still feel it. That throat-grabbing urge. The imagined satisfaction. The desire to get in my car and drive to the nearest store.

Thankfully, it passed and life went on and I've had more strange dreams since, but as strong as the need for a cigarette was in my dream, it has made me all the more determined never to pick up the habit. Because it's not an ordeal I want to face in the future, since I now have firsthand experience with it...err, somewhat.

And that's my anti-smoking message: nicotine addiction leads to gas station clerks threatening to beat you over the head with licorice if you ever try to use fake I.D. again, even though you graduated from high school like a decade ago.

It made a lot more sense in the dream.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Little Terrors

I love horror movies. Not the gruesome ones where it seems like body parts fly off every scene and fountains of blood gush everywhere, but the supernatural ones. Poltergeists, demons, mysteries of haunted houses or towns. Maybe it's fear of the unknown, or maybe it's something most of us can relate to: being in a quiet house and hearing unusual creaks on the floorboards. A loud crash when something inexplicably falls off the shelf. Shadows that form frightening faces on the wall. That eerie feeling like someone is creeping up behind you.

You know, the usual Friday night home alone.

There are so many horror movies in store for October and the coming months and even 2013, and I've seen a lot of the ones that are already out. I have to say it's been a long time since I've watched one that truly frightened me, but it doesn't stop me from trying out new ones. I do have one indication that I probably most definitely won't be scared.

Ghost/demon children. For example, a woman moves to a new town and discovers there are evil little munchkins running around and terrorizing the grown ups.

Evil little munchkin
Granted, if I were a character in one of these movies and a razor-teethed boy wanted to eat my face off (provided he could break my legs first to reach that high), I'd probably be a tad terrified. But as the viewer sitting comfortably at home or in the theater, I can't exactly work myself into a frenzy of fright when the onscreen child glowers menacingly at the protagonist and mumbles vague remarks intended to foreshadow impending doom.

There's nothing scary about children in real life. I've never found myself walking down a dark alley, spotted a child coming toward me, and thought, "Crap! I hope I didn't forget my pepper spray in my other purse."And if I hear the laughter of a little girl where there clearly isn't any little girl, I'm not likely to think she's there for nefarious reasons.

"Is he--is he still standing behind me? I should offer him milk and cookies."

Nonetheless, I do enjoy such movies, probably for the comical factor of seeing a child make grown men and women crap their pants. Laughter might not be the desired reaction but it's something, right?

Friday, October 12, 2012


They arrive in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, stumbling through the airport gate as they gaze around at fellow travelers dressed in suits and carrying briefcases filled with important things. There's weariness in their shoulders, bewilderment and timidity in their eyes as they meet the open stares of curious passersby, but most of all, there's a quiet kind of relief that says, "Thank God I've made it."

To have left behind the tragedy and despair that is shared by all of those who have lost their homes and loved ones. To have journeyed from a place where ambitions don't extend beyond tomorrow's meal and people dare not dream for fear of having more to lose. It can only be a miracle when, after years of fervent prayer, their names were called and they feel as though they've won the lottery--no, as though they have been admitted through the pearly gates of Heaven and to eternal bliss.

But reality soon hits hard. America is certainly the land of the free, but it's not the land of free things.

"I have to work hard? Eight hours on my feet?"
"Maybe more if you want to pay your bills. And well, with the way things are, you'll be lucky to get any sort of job, my friend."
"But I'm blind and lost in this new land."
"You will gain new sight, though the world ain't pretty to look at when you're poor."
"I can't speak, you see."
"You will have to learn the language, unless you want to be the laughingstock of this town."
"What about the bullet in my thigh? The one that pains me through the night?"
"We have doctors for that. And if they can't cure you, you'll move on. 'No pain, no gain' is what we say here."
"My four young ones, who will raise them? Who will teach them my values, my mother tongue, my heritage?"
"They will do just fine without you. They don't need the stories of superstitious old men."

There is peace here, the streets quiet where gunshots once lulled their children to sleep, but their hearts are restless. Food is plentiful, but the scale at the doctor's office tells a sad story. Fear has been a constant companion their whole lives. It is here with them now, peeking over their shoulders with a ghastly grin. The future is the black sea looming in front of them, and they'll have to swim to stay afloat. The only other choice is to sink.

"My people back home, they think I live in paradise," they say with a bitter laugh.
"Why don't you tell them the truth?" I ask.
"They'll never believe it. They think I'm keeping all of the riches for myself. You just wait--they'll come to this land and know what I know. That there's no such thing as paradise on earth."

Contracts, applications, interviews, orientations, doctor's visits--"They've taken all my blood. I have no blood left in my body"--bills, bills, bills. Finally, a job working at a warehouse. "I used to carry firewood on my back day and night, though it's been over twenty years," the aging woman tells me. "These old bones don't move quite the way they used to. At least I can pay the bills now." Thank God for miracles.

Days and weeks turn into months and the months settle some of that old fear about the unknown as this new world becomes comfortably familiar. And then they begin to see the blessing for what it is. The stark disappointment gives way to blooming seeds of hope.

A woman sweeps the steps of her apartment building, her children chasing one another around cars. She gazes out at them, the contentment on her face shining through the worry lines, and says, "My husband and I are saving up for a minivan. I think it will help our family."

They are learning to dream.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Character Creation

When I first started writing (fiction, not the alphabet in kindergarten), I used to come up with characters as I go along. I would create a name and, armed with a vague idea of who or what, throw a new character into the mix. Then the details of appearance and personality and everything else would gradually start to take form.

Because of this, there have been many cases when I had no idea where the character was headed and sometimes the end result would take me completely by surprise, both in a good and a bad way.

A definite downside to this was that there were times when I created protagonists who would meander through the story, not really having direction or stable characteristics. There was a case when a friend said, "This character is a real enigma. I'm not sure what to think of him." My response to that was, "Me neither!"

Perhaps there's one good outcome of doing things so haphazardly (or so says the glass-half-full side of me). Human beings are complex creatures, not confined to strict categories or defined entirely by labels. While a thorough character blueprint certainly helps a writer get a good handle on the character, it's possible that it limits the range of behavior or thoughts the character is allowed to have.

So perhaps, and this is only a guess, not defining a character rigidly might allow him or her to have more dimensions as long as the writer also takes measures to monitor the character's progress throughout the story--something I clearly failed to do in the past.

While it's fun to discover about a character much the same way a reader would--by seeing him or her in action--it's also much too risky. So I've tried to take the safe road and spend as much time on developing the character beforehand as I do on coming up with the storyline. And I start this in an unusual way: creating a character's motto before all else, sometimes even before a name.

I first did this on a whim one day. I looked at the character page of one of my stories and decided to entertain myself with them. I set up an interview with all three main characters, answering questions the way I imagine my characters would.

It's also a surprisingly fun exercise that all writers should partake in at least once.

Example of an interview question and diverse answers:

What do you like most about yourself?

First: I’m a quick study.

Second: Thanks to the discipline my father instilled in me, I can face any situation without irrational emotions clouding my judgment.

Third: What’s not to like?  (A bit of a narcissist, which means I enjoyed her answers the most)

Interviewing imaginary people: Three parts awesome and one part sad.

One of the questions happened to be, "What is your motto?" It was toughest one to answer, but also the most revealing. Each character's response was unique to him or her: What does he stand for? How does she cope with life? What does he/she belief at his/her core?

By doing this, I suddenly have a solid and vivid vision of each character. And the process of creating a new character is different now. With this single defining statement about a new character, I can build on it and tie everything back to it, from appearance to personality to hobbies.

Mottoes of past characters (one of them shares my own):

"Where my people are concerned, the ends always justify the means"
"If it can be done, it will be done"
"I wear an iron mask even at my weakest"
"Never lose self-control" - (Interestingly, this character and the one above are very similar externally, but couldn't be more different internally).
"Better to be hated than to be pitied"
"I am confined to nothing, not even the truth"
"Justice, loyalty, and kinship"
"A sword says more about a man than his words"

Since I started doing this, I find myself connecting better with new characters and having a blast bringing them to life!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lumatere Chronicles

I haven't read a lot books for a long time, which is a real shame. The more immersed I've become in my writing, the more I've neglected the book-lover within me. It's only recently that I've begun to realize that both sides of me need books, because they help me connect more with my own writing and they remind me of the reason I got into it in the first place. Because storytelling is amazing and I'd love to be able to make people feel all of the things I do when I read incredible books.

It's a good thing I've made an effort to read more, because otherwise I would have missed out on two great reads this summer. Firstly, I don't know what it is about Marchetta's stories, but I have completely polarized feelings about them. As well-written as they were, I didn't connect with her contemporary novels. What frustrated me was that so many people loved them and I knew that whatever beauty they found in Saving Francesca or The Piper's Son, I didn't have the capacity to grasp it. And for the first time in my life, I felt as though it was my fault for not liking a book. 

It seems that the very things I didn't get in her other books are those that I loved in her fantasy: the extensive backstory, the huge cast of characters, the amount of time people spent talking and interacting with one another. All of these produced an incredibly rich and diverse world, and believable characters so flawed and real that they stayed with me long after I finish reading. 

The Lumatere Chronicles is a trilogy that consists thus far of Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles. It was a friend who suggested her fantasy series to me and I remember approaching it with reservation, but it completely blew me away once I got past the first twenty pages of the first book.

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin's faith in her . . . but in himself.

Finnikin of the Rock is not a story about an archetypal young hero living in a fantasy world. It's not about the hero learning magic or training to prepare for an epic, climactic showdown against the tyrannical villain at the end of the book. It's not about dragons and elves and gremlins. It's not a story that moves through plot and cliffhangers. This is a story about a nation of lost people who have suffered, bled and continue to long for the beloved home they left a decade ago. And Finnikin is on a quest to save his people, even though their conditions in the refuge camps are heartbreaking and a lot of great people have already been lost. Finnikin meets all sorts of characters and Marchetta does an incredible job of bringing them to life. The Royal Guard are an amazing group of men, especially Trevanion and Perri the Savage, and I was really heartened by the love, fierce loyalty and camaraderie between these men.

And then there's Evanjalin, a mysterious girl who seems to know a lot more than she shares with Finnikin or any of the other main characters. The twist near the end came as a surprise, but it really made sense and fit into the storyline well.

The ending was perfect and the book itself stands alone. But for those who want more, there's also:

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home... Or so he believes...

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

“He knows no other way but ugliness,” Sir Topher said quietly. “He was taught no other lessons but those of force. His teachers have been scum who live by their own rules. No one has ever taught him otherwise.”
“Am I to forgive?” she said, her voice shaking with anger.
“No,” he said sadly. “Pity him. Or give him new rules. Or put him down like a wild animal before he becomes a monster who destroys everything he encounters.”
-Finnikin of the Rock

We met Froi in Finnikin of the Rock, when he was a little foul-mouthed brat destined to grow up into a vile and cruel human being on the streets of Sarnak. But Finnikin and Isaboe, after a very rough start, gave him a chance to mold himself into something more worthy. And mold himself he does. Froi gains a sense of duty in his time with the Guard and his loyalty toward Finnikin and especially Isaboe runs deeper than anything I've seen. But he also proves that, even though he lives to follow the command of his Queen and his superiors, he is willing to act on what he believes in and to fight for those he grows to love.

The theme of this book is darker than its predecessor, but the underlying elements of family, grief, redemption, and what it means to belong are still present. This book has a few profound nuggets of wisdom that really define what the people in the tragedy-stricken lands of Charyn have gone through. In Finnikin of the Rock, the Charynites were portrayed as being an oppressive and conquering nation that once destroyed Lumatere. But Froi of the Exiles tells a different story about these people, one that is as heartbreaking as the tale of Lumatere.

I'm eagerly awaiting the third installment in the Lumatere Chronicles, Quintana of Charyn:

Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi and his companions travel through Charyn searching for Quintana and building an army that will secure her unborn child's right to rule. While in the valley between two kingdoms, Quintana of Charyn and Isaboe of Lumatere come face to face in a showdown that will result in heartbreak for one and power for the other.

A showdown between strange Quintana and strong-minded Isaboe? I'm not sure how I can await until it's out.

Some of my favorite moments in Froi of the Exiles:

“Are you an idiot, or an idiot?' Gargarin hissed
[Froi] 'The first one. I really resent being called the second."

[Gargarin] “I don't despise you for what you allowed to happen to me. I despise you because when I was released, you refused to be found and I needed you more than anything in my life. Not to mend my broken bones, Arjuro. I needed my brother to mend my broken spirit."

Arjuro made a scoffing sound. ‘You think Lumatere will invade because of you? Are you that important?’
Froi looked away. ‘Isaboe would invade if you kidnapped a servant, let alone a friend.’
‘Isaboe? We’re on first-name terms with the Queen of Lumatere, are we?’ Gargarin asked.
Froi found himself bristling. ‘What? Do you think I’m some cutthroat for hire who they found hanging around the palace walls with the words “I want to kill a Charynite King” tattooed on my arse?'

'And then we began to hear the stories. Of what the Lumaterans claimed our sons did during those ten years.'
 Not claims, Froi wanted to shout. What the imposter King's army did to the Lumaterans was more than claims.
'It keeps us awake at night,' Hamlyn said. 'What did a boy who was brought up with such kindness and love do to those people?'

Beatriss shook her head. ’I can’t leave this place, Isaboe. I can’t.’
‘Why?’ Isaboe asked, frustration in her voice. ‘For pride?’
Pride? Beatriss’s pride was long gone. It was smothered by the smugness in the expressions of the Flatland lords. It was shattered by the disappointment in Trevanion’s eyes.
‘My daughter is buried here,’ she said quietly, pained to say the words. ‘Down by the river. I can’t leave her spirit alone. I feel her every day, Isaboe. I can’t leave her behind.’

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Too-Smart Phones

My GPS device died today after four years of dutiful service. It's a clunky old thing that's as big as my hand and weighs at least a couple of pounds. Every time I used it I felt like I was attaching a brick to my windshield. But the poor sucker has taken me places, and even though there have been moments when I was hopelessly lost on the road and one-sided screaming matches ensued ("what do you mean turn right? I just came from that direction! Stop recalculating route and answer me!"), it's been very reliable over the years.

And then it finally fell apart and it was at this point that I discovered my two-month-old smartphone has a much better navigation system. Which got me thinking about how crazily advanced phone technology has gotten over the last decade alone. It's amazing to think that there was a time when camera phones were just starting out and being able to snap a picture and send it to someone was just about the coolest thing you could do with your phone. And then came along other cool new features, and all of a sudden the phone became like the one thing you needed to survive in this technological world.

Here is a list of devices that smartphones have rendered nearly useless over the years:

1) Cameras
2) Voice recorders
3) Navigation devices
4) Handheld games
5) Books
6) MP3 players
7) Clocks/watches
8) Radios
9) Calenders
10) Day Planners
11) Calculators
12) Flashlights
13) Notepads

All of this (and more, with the various apps one can download) in the convenience of a gadget like this:


I don't carry any of these other gadgets in my purse because they're no longer a necessity. Too lazy to do 15+7 off the top of your head? No problem, just find the calculator app. Trying to fit your car keys into the keyhole in the darkness and keep stabbing the car door instead? Use a little digital light from the handy dandy flashlight. Get hit with sudden inspiration for a story you've been working on? Jot it down in the notepad on your phone. Need to take a picture of that weird looking bug you found on your bedroom window? Well, you don't have to worry about rifling through your drawers for your camera anymore.

Over the years, phones have been getting smaller and sleeker, without compromising quality. So what else is in store for us, or for future generations? How many more gadgets will we no longer need? Now that phones are small enough without being too tiny to view, and are light enough without blowing away in the wind, how can companies reinvent and innovate them?

And most importantly, how far away are we from the future when we will all have devices implanted in us that will allow us to access a virtual world? Perhaps then smartphones will also become obsolete, just as they have replaced so many other gadgets before.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Birthright Down

It is with a very heavy heart that I have made the decision to take Birthright down from Wattpad. I know there are people out there who love the story, and I hate that they won't be able to read it till the end. It's not much fun to like something and find yourself unable to finish it because of circumstances outside your control, and I'm sorry that I have caused anyone such disappointment.

Birthright was my first born. And yes, I do realize how weird it is to treat a story like an offspring (and my friends have teased me enough because of it), but I have great affection and attachment to it. Birthright is where I learned to truly write, to develop a world bigger than mine and to play around with these things called settings and dialogues and plots. It's where I discovered the things I'm capable of and the things I need to improve. It's also where I learned to love my characters and breathe life into them.

So I owe a lot to Birthright. And I owe a lot to the readers who enjoyed something so dear to me.

Unfortunately, there are tough decisions I must make as a writer, and this is one of them. Birthright is set in the same world as Conduit, and it's not in my best interest to continue to build this world when it hasn't even been explored in Conduit. Perhaps someday in the future I will pick up the project again and polish it up to the amazing book that I know it will become. But for now, I'm forced to remove it from Wattpad.

So for those of you who read this story, thank you for giving it a chance.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I have signed with an agent. The wonderful ladies over at Literary Counsel, Jennifer Mishler and Frances Black, have agreed to represent me and my work, which is as awesome as it is surreal. It will take a few more lifetimes for it to really sink in.

Anyone who's tried their hand at querying agents will tell you how nerve-racking and incredibly scary the process is. I hear of people who have been doing it for years--years--and I really have to admire their determination and perseverance. It can really take a lot out of you. Like your soul, if you're not careful enough.

The editing stage is blissful ignorance because it's just you and your book and you're calling all the shots, but then you get to writing your query letter and devouring Query Shark entries (pun not intended but appreciated) and it really hits you. "Oh crap, someone else decides if my book is good enough to publish. Someone else holds my entire writing career in the palm of their hand." *cue dramatic music*. And you have only a page's worth of space to convince that person that they're going to love your book (without actually coming right out and begging them to read the darned thing because, you promise, it'll be worth their time).

And, of course, there are always rejections. Hopefully these are overshadowed by the giddiness caused by tempered by requests for samples/partials and, if an agent likes what you've sent or you're working some major voodoo, a request for the full manuscript. Which brings me back to my earlier point: I have an agent! Let the celebrating commence!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Writer's Style

It's been almost a year since I started Conduit. Which is crazy to think about, because a year ago the book was nothing more than a single thought in my mind. A year ago it wasn't even real book-worthy concept, just a crazy "what if this happened?" scenario at the back of my mind. A year ago I didn't even think I could finish a whole novel. I used to run into new writers who would say, "Oh yeah, just finished my first novel", and I would think they had achieved the impossible. Because coming up with ideas is the easy part. Writing a novel? Toughest thing I've ever undertaken. And probably the most rewarding, which explains why I'm doing it again.

I feel I've come a long way since then, but the most difficult thing to do as a writer was to recognize my writing style. Because I didn't understand it. What exactly is a writer's style? Writing is writing whichever way you look at it, right? You string together words and form them into sentences, crack open a thesaurus every once in a while to find that elusive word, and hope you're not making run-on sentences or breaking any of the million grammar rules drilled into you.

But how do you individualize it?

It wasn't that I was blinded to the styles of other writers. I could read a book and find something unique about the way the author wrote it. As a reader, I've never put down a book because I didn't enjoy the way it was written, but I do have to say that it makes the experiencing of reading it all the more enjoyable if the style of the writer is appealing. These are often the books I'll reread again and again, or pick out passages at random just to regain that sense of awe I had the first time reading.

Over time, I've become more conscious of how I write. How I structure sentences, the types of words I use, the flow of my prose, the way I choose my character's voices. The way I set pace and end chapters (Conduit fans on Wattpad just loved this last one as they waited for weekly updates, and by loved I mean absolutely loathed). It has become instinctual, like how your personal signature is second nature after you've done it year after year. You can't explain it to others and you most certainly can't teach it to others, but it's there.

It becomes part of you and you'd recognize it in a heartbeat.

Of course, there is a huge room for improvement, and I'm a believer that writing style should never be stagnant. Part of growing as a writer is discovering new and fresh ways of telling stories, ways that match the theme of the book and the voice of the narrator. Which is why I look forward to the future, so that I'll be able to see how much my writing changes five or ten years from now. And for that, I'm glad I finished my first book.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hunger Games

I saw this poster at the movie theater about a month before the movie release, and I remember standing in front of it for a good few minutes, marveling at the utter epicness of the image - until my friend dragged me away. There's something about Katniss's stance, the way her body is angled slightly toward the cheering crowds, that, to me, says a lot about who she is and how she deals with things. Not a confrontational or direct person, but also not afraid to stand her ground. Plus, I like her braid.

Reminds me a bit of the cover of another post-apocalyptic YA novel, Partials. Also a great book to read, for those who like a little more science in their stories!

So I finally went and watched the Hunger Games movie, which is a week overdue. I had read the first book when it came out and waited for both Catching Fire and Mockingjay. But upon completing Mockingjay, I was left with this insurmountable sense of dissatisfaction and bitterness that I couldn't bring myself to see the movie. I didn't think I could enjoy it, when all I could think of was the fact that I didn't like the ending to the trilogy. But I went anyway, and it's a decision I don't regret. In fact, the only thing I do regret is that I didn't watch it sooner.

The Hunger Games movie delivered in all ways. I was blown away by the artistic beauty, the food, the technology of the Capitol, the scenes in the wilderness, the fight scenes choreography, and most of all, Jennifer Lawrence's acting. She personified Katniss, her strengths and awkwardness, and I never doubted her for a moment.

It reminded me of all of the reasons I had loved the trilogy in the first place. It also made me warm up to certain characters, like Peeta. I felt his pain when he was crying after being chosen, in a way I hadn't when I read the book. On the other hand, I think that Rue's death was more dramatic and touching when I read it. But it was still sad.

There were things that I felt weren't emphasized or explained, such as why Cato was acting weird in his last moments before death (which seemed too sudden and wooden in the movie), and what spurred the children of District 12 to hold up three fingers near the beginning of the movie, when that seemed to be the sign of the rebellion. I did think that other things were explained well through conversations between President Snow and the Gamemaker. Being a first-person story, the film makers had to compensate for the lack of insight into Katniss's thoughts somehow, and they did a great job there.

The difference between watching this movie and Harry Potter/Twilight was that I also approached it as an aspiring young adult writer. I felt envious, not of the fame or the money that Suzanne Collins has made, but of the fact that people were lining up to see her movie. Just as they had lined up to buy her books, and spent time discussing/debating the story, their likes and dislikes. Every author wants that, to see the fruits of their hard work pay off when their stories entertain or teach or give others reason to dream. Suzanne Collins has affected a lot of young adults with her work, and it's something we all aspire to do.

In short, loved the movie. It's definitely worth watching at least twice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Inkpop and Aspect

In my previous post, I mentioned that I kind of wished I had more time to prepare Conduit for review on Inkpop.com. Well, that's one wish I take back. On the 26th or 27th of February, HarperCollins announced that they would be merging Inkpop with another writing community, Figment.com - which basically meant that Inkpop wouldn't exist anymore, and all accounts/projects on the website would be transferred over to Figment. The merge went through on the first of March. It was sad to type out "inkpop.com" and not see that colorful front page anymore.

Apparently, there's something of a rivalry between the two communities, with "Inkies" being considered by some "Figgies" to be stuck-up and overly competitive, and some Inkies viewing Figgies as being insensitive jerks. But aside from a few snarky remarks by some, the Figment community seemed welcoming and helpful as a whole. However, a lot of Inkpop users decided to move to Wattpad.com instead. I do wish them the best, wherever they eventually settle down.

I will definitely miss Inkpop, because it was an amazing website that gave budding writers the chance to make friends, get serious feedback on works, and be able to read and review new stories.

I'm very close to being done with the first chapter of Aspect. There are so many people waiting for word on the sequel, and it makes me nervous having to tell people all the time, "I want to get Conduit published first". Because the truth is that I don't know if I'll get Conduit published. And even if I do, it might take years. So my only option, to placate the eager crowds, is to put Aspect up for free. It's something I'm very hesitant to do, but it might just come to that.

Someone asked what the sequel will be about. I've worked out the plot for half the story, so I don't know all of the events. But I will say that the first chapter is from Fuse's perspective, and it will, hopefully, give readers a glimpse of his internal state and also set important events into motion. I'm considering putting up an excerpt from it and will announce when I decide to do so.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Three days until the Inkpop editorial board receives Conduit for review!

Excited? Definitely. Nervous? Very much so, especially given the small window of time I have to finish my first round of editing. And through editing and rereading the book a couple of times, I've come to realize that it's far from perfect. So in a way, I can't wait for feedback from professionals but at the same time, I wonder if things might have been better if I had more time, given that I finished the book only a month ago. Not that I would change this for anything; opportunities like this rarely come twice.

I can't take any credit for it though. As sappy as it sounds, I owe it all to the wonderful people on Wattpad and Inkpop, who have been more supportive than I deserve. I don't think Conduit would have been what it is today, if they hadn't always encouraged me to do my best on every weekly update of the story. It was a very inspirational thing.

I also believe that a huge part of Conduit's success is because of Emy Papasideris, who has become a close friend over the past seven months or so. I think it was around July of 2011 when I was uncertain of Conduit's potential and felt guilty about abandoning my other projects, that she encouraged me to follow my writer's heart and do what I wanted to do. It helped me to set aside my concerns and just focus on writing the story without worrying about other issues. So thank you, Emy, if you're reading this!

I've gotten Conduit down to 137k from 149k, just by eliminating the unnecessary explanations (R.U.E: Resist the urge to explain) and simplifying sentences. I also got through half a chapter of Aspect before realizing I didn't like the way it started. But I love the outline of the beginning, as well as the events planned for the book as a whole.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Clocks and Cliches

I have this obsession with the hour 11:11, which is what it is right now as I write this blog post. For whatever reason, my brain is programmed to glance at the clock either exactly at that time or minutes before it--the latter of which leads to me keep an eye on the clock until the infernal hour and minute, thus releasing me from whatever compulsion that had taken ahold of me. I actually googled this a while ago and it turns out I might not be the only one. If I ever plan to belong to a cult, I think that might be my best angle. "The Eleveners" is what we'll call ourselves.

In news related to my writing, I edited the beginning of my book to make it less abrupt and ended up right in cliche territory with a waking-up-in-bed beginning. It seemed appropriate, what with Amisra, the protagonist, oversleeping and being late for her first mission as a newly appointed guardian. But the appropriateness isn't something I want to try to explain to agents that I query in the future, so I'm going to have to rethink that one.

Update: Rethinking has been completed--sort of. I'm still a bit unsure with my latest version, but it's a problem I'll come back to once I've taken on bigger things.

This is also the day that I have officially started writing Aspect, the sequel to Conduit. Coming up with the name was a little difficult; I cycled through so many before it finally clicked, all thanks to a close friend of mine. I was talking to her about it, and she told me to give her a description of the second book. As I described the changes Amisra had gone through in the first book, it suddenly hit me. "Aspect" defined those changes well, plus I really like the word. It's strong and mysterious. And maybe a bit surefooted. Okay, now I'm reading too much into it.

It's really strange to tell someone "I'm going to go write Aspect". In my mind, I'm still working on Conduit because, well, the sequel is still part of the Conduit world...I'm sure I'll get accustomed to saying it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I used to have a diary when I was twelve, where I would rant and rave about my woeful childhood and my annoying siblings, but I haven't documented my life ever since. This will be an interesting (and hopefully constant) venture!

Having finished my first book, Conduit, I've come to realize that the process of editing is as hard, if not harder, than the story writing itself. Over the course of writing this book, I've been learning along the way and have compiled a list of things that I need to start applying once I begin editing.

There is so much to remember and think about every step of the way, but strangely enough, I'm really enjoying it. It's satisfying to see passages I had doubts about in the past suddenly click into place and simply sound better.

Being new to this, there are moments when I'm not sure if I'm making a good choice. Conduit was 499 pages and 149k words when I completed it. For a YA novel, that's a lot more than it needs to be, which means I have to cut out a lot of things that I deem unnecessary.  But of course, this creates the problem of what "unnecessary" means. Sometimes, I'm afraid that I'll cut out passages or lines that might have had an impact on readers, and risk making the whole book sound flatter and less meaningful. Hopefully the second or third editing round will erase such doubts.

Beyond a few concerns here and there, I have to say that the overall process is shaping up a lot better than I had anticipated. I'm enjoying rereading the book in detail and rediscovering the plot and characters.