Be the first to know about new releases - and even read them early!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Unexpected Benefits of Leaving the Writing Bubble

I have been having some trouble with revisions lately. I need to get into the head of a couple of characters and really understand their motivations for doing what I make them do in the manuscript, so that I can make them deeper, more meaningful exchanges.

But I couldn't do it alone. I couldn't think of anything unique, anything realistic. So I talked to some girlfriends about it. Some non-writer girlfriends.

This is what we looked like.


Though there was less pink.

We talked about our own experiences of high school, the different types of groups we were in, we talked about smoking at school, skipping, being suspended and expelled, what we define as being "the popular group" (which is never the fact that everyone likes them and wants to be friends with them) and how we changed as people from one year level to another.

Not only was it helpful for me to branch out of my own experience of high school so that I can use it for my writing, it was an eye opening conversation and some of the high school experiences I heard were quite surprising. I thank these wonderful girls for sharing with me, not just for how it has opened up new themes and personality traits for my characters, but because they trusted me and each other to share themselves and I feel it has made us closer.

It's good to get out of the writing bubble once in awhile, get out of your head, talk to others about your story and not just writers. I find that discussing plot issues encourages others to share their own experiences and helps you form more meaningful friendships as well as more meaningful manuscripts.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's Book Review Time! (7) Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Amy has left the life she loves for a world 300 years away.
Trapped in space and frozen in time, Amy is bound for a new planet. But fifty years before she's due to arrive, she is violently woken, the victim of an attempted murder. Now Amy's lost on board and nothing makes sense - she's never felt so alone.
Yet someone is waiting for her. He wants to protect her - and more if she'll let him.

To me, this book is essentially a murder SPAAAAAAAACE! That's a great hook right there, right? It's a great hook but it's also a very simplistic look at a very complicated novel.

Revis does an amazing job with the world building of this, her debut. It's not simply a case of Earth people having been on a space ship generation after generation for 300 years, but she has thought long and hard about what cultural changes may take place through the centuries due to this living condition. Physical, technological, emotional and psychological changes. Just as the world and people were very different to us 300 years ago, Amy wakes up to find the occupants of the ship, that have lived there their whole lives are very different to those she left at home on Earth.
Across the Universe is a dual narrative novel through the eyes of Amy, the victim of an attempted murder and Elder, one of the ship's residents.

Every time it was mentioned that the ship would not land on the new Earth for 50 years I felt uncomfortable - poor Amy, can you imagine it? Being stuck inside for fifty years, with recycled air, recycled water, a metal roof over your head and the "sun" being switched off each night? Waiting fifty years to see your loved ones again? Meeting them again when you are OLDER than your parents?

It's a heart wrenching situation and I look forward to seeing how Amy deals with it in the next book in the trilogy.

COVER NOTE: I have to mention the cover. It's so pretty, don't you think? At least from a distance. When I look at it closely, what looks to be the moment before a kiss actually freaks me out. I imagine that's Amy, still cryogenically frozen, yes? And the guy about to kiss her, well it looks a bit stalkerish and all since she's still sleeping. Creeps me out - which I suppose it's supposed to. Mind you, it's all romantic when the Prince wakes Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, right?

It's Book Review Time! (6) The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

In Mary's world, there are simple truths. 
The Sisterhood always knows best. 
The Guardians will protect and serve. 
The Unconsecrated will never relent. 
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village. The fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. 
But slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. 
Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?

This was my first zombie book and it was certainly a unique spin on the tale. The Zombie Apocalypse happened forever ago. The village is isolated in the middle of the forest and they think they're the only ones alive in the entire world. Their society has harked back to medieval times, with simple pleasures, simple lives, set on obeying religion, working the land and marrying and producing offspring and continuing the species. Yet with such old-fashioned values, it's set in the future. The zombies, or "unconsecrated" as Carrie Ryan calls them are an ever-present threat in the book. If the characters can keep on opposite sides of the fence to them, then they will be okay.

But then a girl NOT from the village arrives. There's life out there somewhere. So when the unconsecrated breach the fence, there might just be a reason to flee. To get out of the forest. But can they survive, and is there anything out there?

I really enjoyed this book, it's thoughtful, has romantic elements and heroism, has just the right amount of gore and even better - it was the first in a trilogy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's Book Review Time! (5) I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Most people are normal. Some are not. John Cleaver is one of those who isn’t; he is obsessed with death and he has all the traits of a serial killer. There’s only one difference between him and every serial killer he’s ever studied: John wants to restrain the evil thoughts that his evil side thinks of, because he really isn’t a serial killer. Well, at least not yet. He’s compiled himself a set of rules that should stop him from turning into a serial killer. He was doing quite well, actually, until a murderer started killing innocent lives in his home town…

Though I admit, apart from the pilot episode I haven't as yet delved into the joys of Dexter - John Wayne Cleaver feels to me, what Dexter may have been like as a teenager.
John has a monster inside him that he is determined not to let loose, and his struggles with it were quite honestly disturbing. John is aware of the psychology behind what makes a person a serial killer, viewing their subjects as "it" rather than he or she, stalking and being keenly aware of his prey - and he knows when he's slipping. Knows what he's becoming, against his better judgement, but he just can't help it.

It could be seen as somewhat of a blessing for John when a monster starts killing in his small town and he has something else to focus on. A new prey. One that he might just be able to justify targetting.

Certainly an interesting, yet disturbing book.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An interview...with ME!

Behold! Words of wisdom by yours truly on about my experience with Black Dog Books, what I learnt about the industry and my recommendations for you, as a writer.



Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's Book Review Time! (4) Fury by Shirley Marr

Let me tell you my story.
Not just the facts I know you want to hear.
If I’m going to tell you my story,I’m telling it my way.
Strap yourself in...Eliza Boans has everything.
A big house.
A great education.
A bright future.
So why is she sitting in a police station confessing to murder? 

This novel has an ominous feel to it all throughout. You know something bad has happened. Someone's dead - but who is it? And why did she do it? They do it? Who did it? What really happened?
Eliza sits in an interrogation room, literally with blood on her hands. And the story that unfolds crosses between her interrogation, how little she wants to tell, how much she wants to know, and flashbacks to the incidents that led up to her current predicament.
I knew I was invested in the fate of these characters when I got really mad at Shirley for a throwaway line in which one of the characters had been released to their parents. It could have meant they were free and were going home, but it could have meant their body had been released and they were dead. And it was so not cool with me for that character to be dead.

This is a powerful, teasing debut in which you just won't know what happened until Eliza is ready to tell you.

I interviewed Shirley Marr about writing Fury and the process of getting it published which you can find here.


Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Book Review Time! (3) The Enemy by Charlie Higson

They’ll chase you. They’ll rip you open. They’ll feed on you.

When the sickness came, every parent, police officer, politician – every adult- fell ii. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. 

Only children under fourteen remain, and they’re fighting to survive.

Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city -down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground- the grown ups lie in wait.

Authors and Publishers - don't knock Remainder Stores. To those of you who don't know about them, you know those warehouse bookshops that turn up around holiday times? Where books are $1-5 etc? They're not exactly profitable for publishers, but I have become a lifelong fan of some authors whose books I have found at Remainder Stores, that I had never heard of beforehand. 

That said, I would like to make an announcement: 

My name is Sarah and I am a Zombie-holic.

Okay so that's probably taking it a bit far but I gotta admit, I'm getting into the whole zombie thing lately, and if you're curious about what EXACTLY the appeal of pussy, boil covered, missing limbed, blood and gut covered disemboweling, human-munching zombies is - The Enemy is a good book to get you started.

There is a perfect balance between gore, genuine emotion, intrigue and scares in this book as the reader follows the Waitrose crew, a bunch of kids who have been holed up in a Waitrose supermarket for over a year as the zombie plague overtakes London.

But they can't stay there forever. They have to move. Some will make it. Some won't, and you might not be able to guess who does.

How does one Waitrose kid fare, who decides to stay in the shop ALONE?
How about that kid who was snatched by the zombies and presumed dead?
What are those NON-Zombie adults doing down in the tube stations?
Can kids survive after being bitten?
Was that zombie that just tried to kill you someone you knew before? Was it your parent?

I just bought the sequel, The Dead (for full-price, see what I mean about remainder stores?) and am looking forward to getting started. When I finish the book I'm reading now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Proud as Punch: Success Stories

I love being a part of this community, the children's writing one. Everyone is so supportive and excited for each other's successes.

That said, I've had several friends with fantabulous news lately and I just wanted to share it with everyone.

Sara Wilson-Etienne who I met at the SCBWI LA conference 2009 because as I was coming down the escalator someone said "Sarah!" and I smiled and said "Hi!" to the stranger. She had actually been talking to Sara, at the bottom of the escalator. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship :).

Sara got a 2-book deal recently. O.O Huge congrats and lots of warm fuzzies go out to Sara! It's a dream (a really really super AMAZING dream) come true.

Meagan Spooner who if I recall correctly, we randomly started communicating on Twitter and I consider her to be full of awesomeness and a good bud, she was in the process of revising a mammoth manuscript she had written and about to start the agent query process. Well that didn't last long - Meagan scored herself an awesome agent like THAT because she is THAT GOOD. I'm thrilled for you Meagan!

and finally, the debut success story of the century goes to Robin Mellom. For realz.

She is my agent buddy, represented by Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency as well, and awhile ago she got a two-book deal (which was discussed in my interview with her here ) but since then, she has scored another...wait for it....FOUR BOOK DEAL. Can you believe that? She has a six book deal before her first book even comes out. Way to go Robin!

So Sara, Meagan and Robin: This is the writing community, to you.
Photo Courtesy of

I'm so proud of you all.

Love Sairz

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's Book Review Time! (2) The Maze Runner by James Dashner

This will be a rave. Just so you know.

The Maze Runner
by James Dashner

When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he's not alone. He's surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible maze. 
Like Thomas, the Gladers don't know why or how they came to be there, or what's happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything to find out - even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horrors that hunt the Maze's walled corridors.

I'd heard of this book ages ago. I'd heard people raving about it ages ago and yeah, it was definitely on my to-read list but I just didn't get to it.
This week however, was the week.
And I can't believe I waited so long. Dashner is an incredible story-teller. Every time I was settling in, knowing what was surely going to come next there was a new twist. The story was turned up on its head. Every time there was an insurmountable problem that wasn't enough. He added another problem to be dealt with as well.
For the first 20-30 pages I must admit I was struggling to get into the book. Thomas wakes up with no memory and no idea where he is and a whole bunch of boys who have the answers. He asks a lot of questions - questions I have as well, but the boys are essentially like "enough with the questions, idiot, we'll tell you when we want you to know" and I was like ARGH! I want to know NOW! Alas I didn't find out now, I had to learn some patience instead. And it was totally worth it.

As a writer, I learned a lot from reading The Maze Runner and I really respect Dashner and his editors for their hard work because it most certainly paid off.
I'm thrilled there's going to be a movie! It'll be a blockbuster, for sure. And there's a sequel! Squee, there's a sequel! With an epilogue like THAT there couldn't NOT be a sequel. (The epilogue...OMG...)

The Maze Runner is the first in a trilogy of action-adventure dystopian novels that I highly recommend.

It's out now. Read it, peeps.

Sarah out.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Character Profiles (or: You like WHO? REALLY??)

I have been asked to do some revisions on one of my manuscripts and something I am to do is work on character development of some of the supporting characters.

I've been having some fun doing it and thought I'd share with you how it's done.

OBSERVE - the Character Questionairre!

This is where you feel like you have multiple personalities because you are not answering the questions as yourself, but are channeling your character, what they think, feel and have experienced in their lives.

Much of the stuff in the questionaire - probably most in this case - won't end up in the book but I find it really helps you gain a thorough understanding of who that character is, how they would react to situations and why.

So this is a bit about Coby.

Name and nicknames (if any): Coby

Age 13

Physical description--tall, short, or medium height?  Straight hair, curly, wavy, bristle-head?  Slender fingers or knobby joints?  Thick wrists?  Tiny feet?  Chin too weak or too strong for the rest of the face?
-Blond Beach hair. It sticks up and in all directions without any assistance of product (really dirty)
-Vacant expression
-Surfer boy
-Weedy – big hands, knobbly elbows, long skinny legs. 
-Body out of proportion, hasn’t grown into it yet.

Are you single?  Married?  Divorced?  Widowed?
-Single – too nervous to ask girls out. Also too chilled. Not really thinking about girls yet.

What do you do for a living?

Are you any good at it?  Why or why not?

Irritating habits--bites fingernails, leaves shoes in the middle of the floor, turns the car engine off with the radio on the highest volume, clears throat all the time...
Runs hands through his dirty hair which makes it stick up more. People don’t want to touch his hands.
A bit vague, doesn’t listen/kind of stupid in an endearing pet-like way.

Eating habits--granola cruncher, junk-food junkie?  adores waffles?  vegetarian except for steak once a month?
HE likes junk food – chocolate and chips as much as he can get, but his parents are vegan and eat a lot of Tofu. There is a lot of tofu in Coby’s life.

Sleeping habits?  --Early to bed, early to rise?  Sleep all day, party all night?  Poor sleeper?  Snores?  Grouchy before 8 am?
Heavy sleeper. Sleeps like a log. Practically hibernates.

Hobbies? Activities?  Crafts?  Sports?  Collect anything?
Skateboarding, surfing, video games, helping Miles with pranking people.

Worst disappointment while growing up?  Major disappointment overall in life? 

Best things that happened while growing up?  Best events overall in life?
Met Harvey and Miles at the start of junior high. Best friends for life – feels he can be himself around them and they like him for it.

Proudest moment and most shameful moments?

What are your goals in life?  In your job?
To have a mellow, happy life. Not work too hard. Doesn’t need to be the best, just wants to get by.

Ever had a serious injury?  Broken bone or bones?  Emergency operation?  Motorcycle crash?  Internal injuries?  Concussion?
Broke his leg when he jumped off the roof because Miles convinced him he could fly. He couldn’t.

Ever had a serious illness?  Staph infection in a hip bone?  Pneumonia?  Malaria?  South American amoebas

Did you change much after high school?  After college?  Why or why not?

Who were you closest to in your family while growing up?  Who are you closest to in your family now?
Dad – dad’s just as mellow as Coby. He was a surf bum but is now a bank teller. They go surfing on the weekends.

Children?  Grandchildren?  Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces , etc?  Pets?

Ever hated anyone?  --who?  and why?

Who have you loved?  Who did you love best, and why?  Ever felt guilt about love? Have you ever betrayed anyone?  What did you do?
Loves Maiyuki (from the first day she joined their friendship group) but is too shy to tell her. Besides – she likes someone else.
*I totes didn't see that coming, but I think it works. But I don't think it's going to end up in the book. It might colour some of his interactions with her but it won't be obvious. But I like it.

Ever witnessed or experienced violence?  What was your reaction to seeing or experiencing that violence?

Ever committed a violent act?  What was it, and why did you do it?
Punching Miles and Harvey when they’re annoying.

Ever risked something important or made a sacrifice for someone else?  Would you do it again?
Got 2 weeks detention in primary school when he pretended it was him who hit a baseball through the art room window. He saw the kid who did it but he looked so scared Coby took the blame for him. They never talked about it.

Oddest thing that ever happened to you -- Caught in tsunami?  Received a shipment of 114 pairs of shoes by mistake?  Fell off a cliff into a banana tree and survived?
When surfing, he found a TV set at the bottom of the ocean. That was pretty weird.

Anything idiosyncratic or otherwise interesting?  (E.g., plays the concertina and sings sea shanties in dives.)


I haven't answered all the questions, and you don't have to, this is just for private use, anyway!
I can't remember where I got the questions from. Somewhere on the internet. If you know then by all means tell me and I'd love to attribute them. that the right word? Having a mental blank here...Wanting to give credit where credit is due!

So what do you think of Coby? He's not a big part of the book but I kind of love him. And by knowing all these things about him I can show the reader his best and wackiest sides too.

Buh bye now!


Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year Decision Making

Happy New Year my lovelies!

December 31 2010 for me was filled with less potential death by drunken stampede in -16c weather in Edinburgh and more singlets and shorts, bean bags and camping chairs on the back deck as the 40c weather in Melbourne Australia slowly cooled to a balmy 20c. There was possibly one-million LESS people in attendance this year which was nice. And yes I'm talking LITERALLY one million people.
How was your New Years?

My resolution for 2011 is simple: To stress less. In 2010 I was a bit of a stress head and I vow to make 2011 much breezier.

That said, it is January 3rd and I am stressing. I took December off from writing, as a bit of a holiday, as a month where I didn't think to myself whenever I watched TV or goofed around "Hey - you've got work to do! You should be writing!" and knew that when January came I would crack the whip and get back to it.

But I have a problem, you see. What do I work on? The rewrite of a middle grade contemporary comedy with a spattering of magical realism or the first draft of that dystopian I've been itching to get stuck into?

At the moment they both feel huge and hard and overwhelming so I have been content seeing friends, visitng the fam, going to work and discovering fab new TV shows and books instead. I mean, technically I AM on my University holidays after all...