Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Everneath by Brodi Ashton - Review!!!

So I'm an awful person. I was supposed to post this review yesterday, but, being me, I forgot entirely. So here's my (one day late) review of EVERNEATH, by Brodi Ashton (Jan. 24, 2012).

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she’s returned—to her old life, her family, her boyfriend—before she’s banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can’t find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance—and the one person she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki’s time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole’s queen.

All the words are underlined and I have no idea why. Eh. Screw it.

So I should start off this review by saying that I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance, nor love triangles. I never got into Twilight and I generally skip over the PR-saturated section of the YA market. For me, EVERNEATH was the exception. I immediately identified with the protagonist, Nikki, who is a breath of fresh air in her lack of Mary-Sue-ness. She's not perfect, but she has enough interesting qualities to make her jump off the page. I also found her relationship with her family very interesting.

When it comes to plot, EVERNEATH takes the well-known myth of Persephone and puts a modern spin on it. Ashton manages to combine both Greek and Egyptian mythology into a single story arc...I loved the references to myths and historical events, since these connections really helped drive the book home for me. The idea that a modern girl might someday take the place of Persephone as queen of the underworld - and that Persephone wouldn't like it - made for a fascinating collision between contemporary and ancient literature.

Now for the romance. Once again, I'm not a huge fan of love triangles, but this one worked for me because of the nature of Nikki and Cole's relationship. Nikki and Jack are obviously in love, or at least in like (I'm kind of a cynic when it comes to teen romance). With many paranormal YA stories, the heroine is in love with two guys who each personify different attractive qualities, and she spends a great deal of time angsting over her choice. This is why I hate love triangles....they make the protagonist sound whiny and unlikable. "OMGZZZ, two amazing guys are in love with me and will do anything to have me! My life sucks! Whatever shall I do?" And I'm like, "Yeah, your life is pretty damn hard. Get over it." With EVERNEATH, Nikki obviously likes Jack. They have a wonderful and healthy relationship (hard to find in YA). But she's simultaneously drawn to Cole (semi-spoiler...revealed during the book's prologue) due to the teensy fact that they spent a century as a single being, sharing thoughts and memories as he fed off her. Kind of hard to top that when it comes to personal connection. I empathized with Nikki...she doesn't want to care about Cole, but she can't help it.

My one issue had to do with the ending, and honestly, it's simply because I don't like cliffhangers. I prefer books that stand on their own feet, so to speak. EVERNEATH ends on a big cliffhanger....if cliffhangers are your thing, you'll love it.

EVERNEATH was truly a pleasure to read. I loved the story, the characters, and the romance, and I recommend to all readers who enjoy a fast-paced YA novel. Eagerly awaiting Book 2.

Rating: 9.8/10


**I just typed "recommend" as "reccommend." It took me a good three minutes to figure out why spell-check was freaking out.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Writing Complex Antagonists

I'm a huge fan of complex antagonists. All too often I read a book with an interesting protagonist, interesting secondary characters, and a plot that rocks, but the antagonist just doesn't live up to my expectations. This problem seems to occur more in fantasy...antagonists who are Evil for the sake of being Evil.

That's the thing about characters: they are, by default, more interesting when they're human. I'm not necessarily talking about biology....I mean human in terms of psyche, emotions, and depth. Humans aren't simple or one-dimensional. We are multi-faceted, with varying degrees of good and bad displayed at any one time.

When I go about creating my antagonists, the one thing I try to remember is love. Love is a universal emotion. Everybody wants to love someone, and to be loved in return....I'd go as far as to say that love is the most powerful and primal human desire. Even "bad" people like Mao and Hitler desire affection. After all, where would we be without human contact?

I try to remember this whenever I write a villainous character. Who do they love? Have they suffered the loss of a loved one? Who loves them? What was their childhood like? Thinking about questions such as these helps me create more multi-dimensional antagonists. Although I love the Harry Potter books, I don't find Voldemort to be a particularly interesting villain because he is "evil" from the start. Even as a small child there isn't an ounce of love or compassion inside him, and he doesn't care about receiving affection from others. It just isn't realistic. Tom Riddle was once a person, after all. This is one aspect of the Harry Potter universe that I feel JK Rowling left unexplored....what makes a person evil? Why does Voldemort commit such atrocious acts of violence? You cannot paint the world in shades of black and white. All people are capable of horrible deeds, just as all people are capable of good deeds, and an antagonist should have a reason behind their so-called "evilness".

Remember, none of the world's great "villains" thought of themselves as evil. I think we can all agree that Hitler did terrible, terrible things, and probably suffered from pretty severe mental illness, but I guarantee you he didn't hide out in a dark room going "MUAHAHAHAHA MY EVIL SCHEME IS WORKING." Misguided and delusional as he might've been, Hitler actually thought ethnic cleansing was the answer to the world's problems. When I write antagonists, I ask myself, "What does this person see when they look in the mirror?" How is their perspective different from the protagonist's? Do they believe themselves to be acting for the common good?

Depth is the key to a good villain. Strong protagonists are essential to any novel, but your antagonist should be equally developed. This will create a balance that enhances every aspect of the story.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Interview and Stuff

Hey guys. I hope you are all having a spectacular, fantabulous, superkalafragalisticexpealidocious week. (Spell check is telling me that I spelled "superkalafragalisticexpealidocious" wrong.) I have one more final tomorrow and then I'm FREEEEEEE!!!!!!! Seriously though, finals week does awful things to your brain....last night my roommate locked me in the closet, and our conflict escalated over the course of three hours into a full-on tickling/hitting/biting war. That's right, we regressed from college students to five-year-olds. And I have the bruises to show for it.

Anyways, I just thought I'd let you guys know about the interview I did over at Leigh Covington's blog. She was awesome to host me and I had a ton of fun! If you get a chance, go check out her amazing questions and my (somewhat less amazing) answers.

I've decided to do DecembroWriMo. Short for December Writing Month, which really doesn't have the same ring to it as NaNoWriMo, but whatever. Since I spent November working on revisions for my agent, I'm writing a new book over the holidays! That's right, a new book! A shiny new book with new characters and new plots and NEW EVERYTHING! (Don't judge me. I've been working on revisions since April....I'm literally dying to start something new.) I also just received a package in the mail from my writing buddy and business partner Taryn Albright. As if I needed another reason for her to be my FAVORITE PERSON EVER, she sent me chocolate and books and a notebook and NAIL POLISH, people. As I always say, true friends don't let friends go without nail polish.

Wow. There is some extreme capitalization and parentheses abuse going on in this post.

What about all you guys? Editing your NaNoWriMo creations? Working on a new project? Or do you plan to spend the holidays in the bliss of a food-induced coma?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011



.....this is my life.

Don't get me wrong, college is wayyyy easier than high school, but finals still aren't fun. My brain's like wait.....I was supposed to learn this stuff? Like, long term?

I'm one of those people who gets really nervous before a test. I usually deal with this by eating lots of candy, which is not the most healthy option, especially when I have a final for every class. Writers tend to get nervous as well....I remember waiting for agents to respond to my query, and it was absolutely awful. When I go out on submission I'm sure it'll be the same way.

So what about you guys? How do you deal with nerves?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing an Ending that Rocks

For me, writing the end of a book has always been the easiest part of the entire process. I usually have the climax set up from the beginning, so by the time I get to it all the details are resolved in my head and I just can't wait to get them down on paper.

I think there are five aspects of an amazing ending. My favorite books have all five, some have two or three, and some (series in particular) may only have two. These are what I strive for whenever I write the conclusion to a story.

1. The Twist. A sudden reveal, an exposed secret....plot twists really help make the ending of a book interesting. Here I'd quote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. When Harry walks into the room with the Mirror and sees Professor Quirrell instead of Professor Snape, it shocked most readers out of their seats. (Figuratively. Unless you actually did fall out of your seat, in which case literally.) It was the biggest OH SNAP moment of the book.

2. Physical Action. Let's face it, a climax would be boring if characters just stood around talking. Physical action is essential to move the plot along. In Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, the climax involves an elaborate escape plan, the main character almost getting ripped in half by sadistic religious scientists (all Catholic-Inquisition-style), and blowing up a detainment building in the middle of Arctic nowhere. The physical action is very effective and well-paced.

3. Emotional Action. Every good main character should have an emotional journey. A climax needs to expand upon these emotions, and the character should face mental barriers as well as physical. I know opinions are divided over Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, but in terms of emotional impact the climax is perfect and moving. Katniss gives up everything to protect her sister Prim, but in the end she can't save her. It's a sad and dismal ending, to be sure (although the last chapter does give some hope for the future), but the emotional climax is far more effective than a climax merely based on action.

4. Resolution. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of series in which books end on complete and total cliffhangers. I think, in order to create a good climax, there needs to be some measure of resolution. Again, I think the Harry Potter books are particularly good at this. They leave you salivating for the next installment, but every book contains its own individual story, and all the major points of these stories are wrapped up by the end of the book. They satisfy readers' curiosity as well as hinting at events in the next installment.

5. Unity. I think this is the hardest part of a climax to nail: combining physical action, emotional action, themes, etc into an ending that wraps up all (or most) loose threads. Authors who can come up with a climax in which a single event relates back to all these things (i.e., the character's emotional journey and physical journey come to culmination in one arresting moment) create the most satisfying and emotionally wrenching climaxes. Here I'd quote Ptolemy's Gate, the third and final volume of the Bartimaeus trilogy. Author Jonathan Stroud pulls off the absolute best climax and resolution I've ever read. For those of you who don't know, there are two main characters in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and Stroud manages to converge both characters' emotional and physical journeys, as well as the book's overall themes, into a single final instant that's absolutely perfect in every way. Stories are made up of multiple threads, but the very best climaxes spin these threads together into a moment that can be used to summarize the book as a whole.

So there you have it. Those are five points that (in my opinion) contribute to an amazing climax. Do you guys like writing your own endings? Do you find them difficult, or easier than the beginning and middle? What do you think makes a good climax?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Writerly Instinct

We all have what I like to call a writerly instinct. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we know when one of our projects is ready for submission, be it to agents or editors. The trick is to become aware of such instincts and learn to listen to them.

I want desperately to be published. But at the same time, I want my first book to be the absolute best it can be.

As many of you know, I have two books in the works. I'm not feeling so great about one of them....I've done multiple revisions, but my writerly instincts tell me it's not quite there. One of my biggest fears at the moment is getting that story published. It's not good enough to measure up to my own personal standards. That's the thing about us perfectionists....we hold ourselves to the highest level of achievement, and when we don't reach that level we get frustrated and angry.

Someday, hopefully soon, my book will reach a level at which I'm satisfied. I'm closer with one of my projects than I've ever been before....after this round of revisions, perhaps I'll finally feel it's good enough to send out. There's also the possibility that I'm just paranoid.

What about you guys? Can you tell when a project is ready?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Swearing in YA - A Teen's Perspective

Ah, swearing. A semi-hot-button issue. Today's post will be short, as it's one in the morning and I have a math test to study for, but I just thought I'd comment on swearing in YA fiction.

Personally, I'm fine with a bit of swearing. I swear on occasion (probably more than I should) and I don't have a single friend who doesn't swear. Quite honestly, it's part of being a teenager, and I'd wager that 95% of teens have sworn at one point or another. There will always be exceptions to such a generalization, but for the most part swear words are consistently present in day-to-day high school life.

Here's the thing: as an author, you write from your main character's perspective. What your main character chooses to do and say does NOT necessarily reflect your own beliefs. For instance, my main character steals a human child every year for a ritualistic sacrifice. Does this mean I condone sacrificing infants? Of course not. My main character is not me, and I am not my main character. At times, I feel readers (parents in particular) have a hard time separating the two.

If you write a book from the perspective of a girl who's dabbled in drugs, odds are she swears. Sanitizing all her language will reduce the authenticity of your work. Trust me, readers will notice. On the other hand, forcing a character who otherwise wouldn't swear to use foul language (usually in an attempt to connect with a teenaged audience) will feel just that: forced. Immerse yourself in your main character's thoughts. What would she/he say? Write from your character's perspective, regardless of your own moral values. A writer who lets his or her own beliefs overtake the organic actions of a character is compromising the impact of the project.

On a forum the other day, one of the commenters said something along the lines of, "There are always ways to avoid swearing. Authors only swear when they can't come up with a more creative/intelligent way to express feelings." Now, could an author come up with a more creative and less vulgar way to say "fuck you?" Certainly. But would the character in question purposely abstain from using the word "fuck" in order to avoid foul language? Doubtful, in the case of most teenagers. Any attempt to censor language at the expense of a character's individual voice does a disservice to the author and the reader.

I've also heard parents express concern that teens will "pick up on" swearing in YA, and thus use the words themselves. This may be true in select cases, particularly younger/less mature teens, and I think it's appropriate that some parents help select what their children read. But by the time teens enter high school, they're surrounded by swear words all day. Anybody who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Considering the amount of foul language teens hear regardless of what they read, swearing in a YA novel is not going to change whether or not they swear. Most kids are smarter and more self-assured than adults give them credit for.

Swearing must be deliberate. It must be an accurate representation of the character, and the situation should warrant such an expression of intense emotion. I think it's entirely possible to write a clean YA novel with an authentic ring. However, in my opinion, there is most definitely a place for swearing in many YA stories.