5 books with dead main characters – and an #IAD giveaway!

international authors day banner

Happy International Authors’ Day! To celebrate, I am taking part in a special blog hop tour with many other authors, and will be hosting a giveaway, which you can read about at the end of this blog post. If you’d like to read other authors’ blogs and win some cool stuff, be sure to check out the International Authors’ Day Facebook page, or check #IAD on Facebook and Twitter to see who else is taking part.

For my blog, I thought I’d talk about some of my favorite books that are told from the point of view of someone who has died, mainly because the narrators of my books A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen are on the other side of life. Some of these I have read, and some I hope to read. But I’m also hoping to get a few suggestions for other books with ghostly narrators or main characters from you. See details at the end of this post.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold1. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. The movie? Not so much. But the book! Author Alice Sebold writes in such a way, it’s like the words are singing. It’s like they have this life all their own, and each one is lovingly placed in such strange and wonderful ways. She writes passages like this:
“Now I am in the place I call this wide wide Heaven because it includes all my simplest desires but also the most humble and grand. The word my grandfather uses is comfort.
So there are cakes and pillows and colors galore, but underneath this more obvious patchwork quilt are places like a quiet room where you can go and hold someone’s hand and not have to say anything. Give no story. Make no claim. Where you can live at the edge of your skin for as long as you wish. This wide wide Heaven is about flathead nails and the soft down of new leaves, wide roller coaster rides and escaped marbles that fall then hang then take you somewhere you could never have imagined in your small-heaven dreams.”
I could live in this book. Truly.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver2. Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
I just recently read this book when a reader suggested it to me after reading A Symphony of Cicadas. It’s about a popular girl named Samantha who dies in a car accident, but must live that one day over and over again, each time learning something new. It’s been compared as a Mean Girls meets Groundhogs Day kind of story, and I could totally see why. Samantha starts out in this clique of girls who are at the top of the school, and learns things about herself and her friends that begin to not sit well with her. It’s definitely a page turner.

Books I haven’t read, but have on my to-be-read list

 

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
My daughter read this book a year or so ago, and can’t say enough good things about it. It’s about a girl who commits suicide. Then friends, enemies, and teachers each receive one of 13 tapes she recorded beforehand that explain why she did it, and how they contributed to her decision. For my daughter, the main impact of the story was seeing how the narrator viewed this girl’s death, and how he grew as he learned more about her decision.

 

 

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman4. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
I don’t know much about this, except that it sounds a little like Before I Fall. It’s about a girl who gets into a car accident, and is faced with some hard choices that will decide her fate. A definite must on my TBR list.

 

 

 

 

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak5. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
I didn’t know this, but the book is narrated by Death himself. It already looked interesting enough to me, but that just added a whole other layer of intrigue.

 

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY!

Forever ThirteenWhat other books are there? Leave a comment by the end of Friday, July 18th, telling your favorite book with a dead narrator or main character – either one of these or a different one that you love – and you could win a free signed copy of my book, Forever Thirteen.

Join me at Author Launch!

I hope all of you are enjoying your summer so far! It feels like the months are just slipping by, and it’s hard to believe it’s already July!

Today I am on my way to the summer camp my kids and I go to every single year. But before I leave, I wanted to update you on a few things that might be of interest to you.

Forever ThirteenFirst, I am one of 20 authors that will be featured at the Redwood Writers annual Author Launch. This will take place at their July meeting on Sunday, July 13th at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, beginning at 2 p.m. Usually, guest admission to these meetings are $8. But because this is a special celebration, all guests are free! I invite you to come check us out, not only to hear an excerpt of my latest novel, Forever Thirteen, but to hear what other writers are up to on the North Coast. I am not exaggerating when I say I am surrounded by some incredibly talented writers!

I also have some novel writing news.

The first part of this news is that I am putting book #3 of the Forever After series to rest…at least for now. I was originally planning on writing a prequel to A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen. However, it just wasn’t flowing the way I want it to. I took that as a sign that it was time to work on something new.

That brings me to my second half of that news. I am resurrecting an old manuscript I wrote years ago, rewriting the whole thing so that it’s polished and shiny, and so that it will stop haunting me! I am super excited about this novel, and have been literally waiting literally years to finish it. It’s a literary fiction story about two mothers – one in her 30s, the other in her teens – who experience two very different tragedies, offering them a split second connection that changes their paths forever.

And that’s all the teaser you get for now. ;-)

Other than that, I’ve been a busy gal. My latest projects include coordinating the above-mentioned summer camp, being the newsletter editor for the Redwood Writers (and now also their social media maven), and writing a new novel. Phew! But in between that, I have also been quite the bookworm myself! The latest books I’ve enjoyed are the cult favorites, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, as well as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (I highly recommend!). I’ve also been soaking up anything by Colleen Hoover (she writes YA romance), and loved the book Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. You can see all the books I’ve read at my Goodreads profile. And if you follow me, I’ll follow you back! I’m always looking for a few other bookworms to share favorite reads with.

What are you reading?

Happy summer, and happy reading to all of you!

10 things about me as a writer

I just completed an author interview over at Smashwords, and thought I’d share the whole thing over here. :-)

What do your fans mean to you?
My fans mean everything to me! Writing can be such a lonely craft, and there are times when I am so frustrated with the story or the characters, and I wonder if it’s even worth writing anymore. Then a fan will send me an encouraging word, like telling me how much one of my stories meant to them, and I remember why I’m doing this – to make a difference, and to share a glimpse of hope in human experiences. Without fans, I’d still have reason to write. But it would hold so much less meaning than it does with people who love my stories and want more of them.

What are you working on next?
Right now I’m working on the third and final installment of my Forever After series – the prequel to A Symphony of Cicadas and Forever Thirteen. Admittedly, I’m totally struggling with this one, as I have to be very careful how the story unfolds since all the events happen before stories already told. Following that, I have a rough draft of a story I wrote years ago and set aside, and I’m itching to dive into it and make it a book!

Who are your favorite authors?
I love Anne Lamott. I love her blatant honesty in her memoirs, and how she uses her personal experiences in her fiction. She’s such a bare bones writer, and a truly wonderful woman. I also love a slightly unknown author named Tim Farrington, who as far as I can tell, has stopped writing books unfortunately. He wrote The Monk Downstairs, and is so delicate in his descriptions, I just want to live in his stories. And I love Elizabeth Gilbert and Alice Sebold, both of whom wrote life changing books I have read over and over again. And my first love in novelists would be Ernest Hemingway, who stole my heart with the book Old Man and the Sea, and watered my writing plant so that all I wanted to be was an author.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Would it be too cliche to say writing? There are so many other facets of my life, mostly my family. But the reason I am an early riser is because my laptop and the growing story on it is calling to me. That, and coffee.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I’m a mom and stepmom to three awesome kids, and married to the most wonderful man. My family is my everything. We have a crazy dog who I just recently found out is an Australian Kelpie mix, but is mainly a mutt. I love taking him for walks, particularly in the evening when the frogs in our neighborhood creek are singing their loudest. I work at a newspaper where I used to write a column that told all of my family’s stories, particularly the stories of my youngest son who is kind of an adorable troublemaker (see Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows). That gig ended, though, and I mostly just help maintain the websites, though I still occasionally share my writing on the online newspaper. I am part of our region’s writing group called Redwood Writers, and I am their newsletter editor and social media maven. And I am heavily involved with a summer camp, and am one of the people who help plan and coordinate it. All this on top of writing a novel. You could say I enjoy being busy. :-)

How do you discover the eBooks you read?
Often, it’s from recommendations from my friends. I think that’s the biggest way most books are shared. Someone will be buzzing about this great book they’ve read, and their interest entices interest from others. And then it spreads like wildfire. It’s my hope that one day I can present a book to readers that they can’t stop talking about.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story I ever wrote was about a princess in her castle. That’s all I remember. I was in first grade, and it probably sucked. But my teacher was so awesome about it, praising me on the way I read it with emotion.

What is your writing process?
I start with an idea, and jot it down on an outline. And then when I start writing, I end up straying big time from that outline. But I still believe it’s a good idea to start with a plan, even if that plan changes. It gives me roots to go from, but when it changes, it means the characters are writing the story and not me.

What are your five favorite books, and why?
My first is The Lovely Bones, and the book I referred to often as I wrote my book, A Symphony of Cicadas. I love it because I love Alice Sebold’s way with description and ethereal storytelling.
Next is Peter Pan. I love the symbolism in it about not wanting to grow up, how youth is fighting age, and Wendy’s choice. It represents all of our struggle with leaving childhood.
Then there’s Eat Pray Love. I feel like that’s such a cliche book to love, but I totally jumped on the bandwagon. It was published at a time when I was struggling within the early years of my own divorce and the confusion of the dating world, and taught me that I could find love and acceptance within my own life…or maybe Bali (thankfully, my husband ended up being a lot closer than that!)
Next is Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. Every single word she writes is like gospel being sung to me.
And then there’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, which takes a confusing storyline and tells it in such a brilliant way that you can totally keep up. I’m not even sure how the author did it. Serious skill.
There are a zillion more books I love, too, maybe even some I love more than these. But for this moment, these are my top 5.

What inspired your latest book?
It actually started with the first book in the series, which stemmed from a vivid dream I had. I was having one of those wedding nightmares a few months before my actual wedding. In the dream, I died. But the dream didn’t end. Instead, I hung around as I watched my fiance grieve for me, and then move on. And instead of being all angry, I moved into a feeling of peace, wanting him to be happy even though I wasn’t there with him. I was so moved by this dream I woke up crying. And then I outlined the whole novel and wrote it for NaNoWriMo, and published it a few months after it was written. The rest is history! Now I am telling the story before my main character died, detailing how they fell in love.

Making our passion a priority

I had a dream the other night that I lost my sense of hearing. Rather than bemoan the fact that I could no longer listen to the latest Coldplay album on repeat (and seriously, there should be a support group for that kind of obsession), all I could think of was how much easier it would now be to get my writing done. I actually woke up happy, until I realized I could hear again.*

Not ListeningIt’s funny how available I must look when I’m typing on the computer. For some reason, it must make me appear that I want to carry a conversation or go over the tasks of the day. Maybe it’s because a good portion of the time I am typing, I am actually looking out my window**, mulling over what’s supposed to happen next, the conversations between characters, or whether what I’m writing appears to be utter crap or blatant brilliance, never somewhere in between.

It could also be because in between thinking of things I want to write about, I might be checking my email or perusing Facebook and Twitter, searching for the one item that can serve as my muse, or at least unscramble that portion of an idea that is still just out of my grasp.

Here’s a confession – I am actually super mean when I am in my writing zone, and a member of my family comes and interrupts the process. I also enjoy writing in the common areas of the house, like at the kitchen table (where I am at right now), even though I want the room to be empty while I am typing. This makes it almost comical (to anyone but me) when the TV is turned on while I am working on my book, someone strikes up a conversation with me, the dog wants to play, a family member is inspired to hum the same tune over and over again, or a kid crisis needs to be solved, and I get irritated – as if I actually own that common area, and everyone else should just stay in their rooms until I am done. My solution to this is to huff very loudly, snap at whoever dares to speak to me, mutter obscenities to my little furry friend, stare disdainfully at the musically inclined, and slip my headphones on to block out the sounds of screaming children.

Of course, all this could be solved by being clear on my typing time, and my creative time – both with WHEN I am typing away at the novel, and WHERE I am doing it. It can also be remedied with how I view my creative time.

Most of us creatives use our time of art as a side project. It’s when we have time for it – not when we have MADE time for it. Many of us have jobs, and then families and household duties. Those are #1 and #2, interchangeably. And that’s fine. We have to pay the bills, and our families and homes are kind of endearing to us. So we say our creative time, the part that is our passion, is #3.

But is it really?

I can think of at least a dozen things I put above the time I could be creating on a daily basis:

- Watching TV
– Getting the high score on Bejeweled (yes, I still play that insanity)
– Checking in on social media
– Worrying about my book sale numbers
– Sleeping in
– Perusing the www
– Eating out of boredom
– Texting
– Saying yes to yet another project that will eat up my time
– Catering to my kids’ whims (primarily being their chauffeur)
– Cleaning, or at least stressing about the need to clean
– Letting fear of writing crap take up space in my head

And there’s more. Most of these things are fine to do at any time during the day (except for the last one! but how do I stop that from happening?). But thing is, when I allow all those things to happen instead of dedicating my time to writing, that’s when it becomes a problem.

Let me put it this way. If I were to let any of those things get in the way of doing my 9-to-5 job, I’d probably get fired. As a worker, I am expected to set aside the time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to get a specific job done. Outside of that time, I can spend it doing whatever my heart desires. But within that time, I am an employee with certain tasks that need to be completed.

This is how creatives need to view their creative time. This is how I need to view my writing time - as a priority. My most successful times of writing are when I wake up earlier than the rest of the house to get work done on the novel. In November when I do NaNoWriMo, this is how I win every year – I am dedicated to getting up at 5 a.m. and spending two hours writing – EVERY DAY. And I get very little sleep during the whole month.

However, sometimes sleep is more important than waking up early. That’s when a little bit of planning needs to take place. For me, that means writing on my lunch breaks, or shutting myself off in my room (or even leaving the house), or just being okay with the rest of the household buzzing by me, but being clear that for a specific time frame I am unavailable (this is best done with headphones on). And then I need to be clear on this MYSELF, using that time set aside for creativity, and not for wasting it with extracurricular activities like checking Facebook or worrying about book sales.

For any of us, I think it’s vital we make the things we are passionate about a priority, and stop looking at it like it’s an extracurricular activity. This doesn’t mean putting it above the things that are vital to our survival (our paying jobs) or our families (they’re kind of cute, after all). But it does mean taking those things that make us excited and placing enough importance on them that we are giving it our proper energy.

Your passion is worthy of your time. So is mine. Isn’t it time we allowed that to actually be true?

Side notes:

* I don’t actually think being deaf would be all that awesome, for anyone who is prepared to find offense with how casually I viewed losing my sense of hearing in my dream.

** Billy Collins actually wrote a poem on poets who are looking out windows while the rest of the world rolls by. I think it applies to all writers.

The messy blending of a … story

About a week or so ago I announced that I believed I was done with the rough draft of Prelude to Forever, the story of how Rachel and John met and fell in love before A Symphony of Cicadas. Having planned on this book being a novelette, I was satisfied with the shorter length, and the place I would leave off at. I hand-wrote the whole rough draft of the book, and have been spending the time since that announcement retyping everything I wrote. It’s been an arduous process, though somewhat satisfying as I am able to edit as I go, creating a much cleaner version of what I’ve been writing. And the story is evolving slightly, adding a few interesting layers to characters and their situations.

Of course, a few details I’d planned have changed too. In doing so, I have opened the door to continuing the story beyond what I have already written – meaning this might be more of a full-length novel than a novelette. The original story was just going to focus on John and Rachel’s romance. But now I am expanding to what it’s like to blend a family – all the messy and awkward parts of it.

Thing is, this is a scary thing to write about, mostly because it hits so close to home. When I had first planned on writing this story, the family blending was the biggest reason why. But slowly I started to phase that part out. I see now it’s because writing about it would make me have to face things in my own home that were uncomfortable or unpleasant.

I see step-families all around me, and some of them act as if blending their family was the most natural thing in the world. The others act as if their stepchildren were spawn of the devil. Our family is somewhere in the middle, where things are neither terrible or all that great. There are some days where it feels like our family is just cruising along, and everything is going like clockwork. And there are other days when we’ve never felt more disjointed. Both my husband and I have a mental list going on how much better the other person’s child would have been if we’d raised them with our opposite ideals. Our children have a mental list of why their stepparent is weird and unapproachable. And the list of inequities on all sides is a mile long.

And then there are the little surprises, like the other day when my teenage stepson greeted me with a heartfelt hug when I came home from work – the second or third hug we’ve shared in the six-and-a-half years we’ve known each other…and it made me so happy I did all his chores for him.

Today I was listening to a podcast on writing, and the subject was about the creative process. The point in it was to put energy towards the things you’re excited about. If a project is draining you, it might be time to set it down and walk away. It may be the wrong project.

Listening to this, I realized how draining this story is to me right now. And all day long I’ve been mulling over whether it’s time to set this down and start on something new. It’s tempting – there’s one project I’ve placed on the back burner that I’m itching to dive into. But I’ve also realized that I’m struggling with this story because it’s edging a place in my own life that’s difficult to write about. As I get closer to that part of the story, the temptation to walk away from the book grows.

So for now, I’m sticking with the story. I’m not sure how many people will actually be affected whether I write this story or not, but I realize I need to at least try. There still might come a day when I decide I need to put this down for my own sanity. But for now, I’m going to let Rachel, John, Joey, and Sam share their story through me, and maybe even offer a few answers towards my own messy family.

Writing naked.

Everyone in the world can sing. Not everyone can sing well, but everyone has the ability to move their voice up and down in some way, even adding words to go with the melody. Singing isn’t really something new. And yet, only a select few of us will ever sing for another human being. It’s funny how loud and open we can be with a song when we’re in the privacy of our own car, and yet, put us in front of people, and suddenly our pipes freeze up.

This is me. Only a small percentage of the population has ever heard me sing – my kids, my husband, my sisters, and a few lucky people at the karaoke bar after I imbibed in some liquid courage. But really, no one has ever heard me truly belt it out, because I save those diva performances for the walls of my shower room, or when I think no one is looking at me in my car. Let me tell you something, my inner combination of Aretha Franklin, Adele, and Amy Winehouse can wail! And you’ll never hear me sing, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Singing is something I hold close to the vest.

The same could be said of my writing. At one time I wrote for an audience of one. All my poetry, journal entries, short stories, etc. were quietly bound in my notebook, kept there to only be re-read by myself, or written and then forgotten. To have someone look at what I was writing would be like walking down the street naked. I put my whole soul in what I wrote. I didn’t know how to write any other way. I wrote the truth, my truth, and left out nothing. It was how I cleared my head, battled inner demons, worked out problems, cried without tears…

In Breathe, Anna Nalick sang, “If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to…”

Yes.

But I couldn’t share those words. There were a few times they were taken from me. There was the time when a jealous boyfriend stole my diary and read every single page. There were the crumpled up pieces of truth in my garbage can that my mother found. And there was my Creative Writing class in school where I was forced to write things down and SHARE. THEM. OUT. LOUD.

Um, what?

This was both terrifying and exhilarating. This wasn’t like writing essays about books that some dead author wrote. This was actually creating a story from the corners of my own mind, and then offering them up to my fellow students who would either eat them up or spit them out.

Needless to say, not one student was horrible when it came to hearing other people’s stories. Everyone was too concerned about their own story to worry about knocking down anyone else. Though I hadn’t completely overcome my fear of sharing my writing, I learned what it felt like to momentarily break down those walls I’d built around me, sharing the little pieces of my soul I’d put down on paper.

I eventually did let my writing venture into the public eye. I started out with an online diary (which later turned into blogging). I scored a killer job with the newspaper where I got to share my true parenting stories with a small corner of the world. And then, last year, I published my first book – a venture that led to an obsession I can no longer put away.

I was meant to write, and I was meant to share it.

However, there are some serious dangers to sharing your passion with the world, as I soon learned.

The thing about passionate writing is, the words are your babies. Before I share each story I’ve written, I have gone over every single word, working and reworking them until they have reached my level of perfection. And even then, it’s hard to let them go. When I do, it’s like cutting the apron strings and sending my babies off to college. I’ve done my job. I’ve trained them up. I’ve instilled in them all my values and hopes for their future. And then I give them their train ticket, kiss them goodbye, and wave from the platform, hoping against hope that the world doesn’t eat them alive and undo all the love I put into them.

But thing is, I am not in control of how the world receives them. Some of you will receive these words with the same love I had for them when I created them. Others will look at them and see them as the kind of words only a mother could love. Some won’t get them. Some will. Some will hope there are more words to follow. Others, not so much.

To share something you are passionate about with the world – be it writing, singing, art, or whatever it is that you’re passionate about – you must also develop a thick skin. With the positive feedback (and there will be some out there), there is negative feedback (and there will be much of this, too). And the negative feedback is LOUDER than the positive feedback, no matter how miniscule it is.

My skin is noticeably thicker nowadays then it was when I first started. But I still battle the impulse to throw in the towel when I hear anything less than “I loved it!” when it comes to my writing. If I find out someone didn’t love it, I seriously consider quitting altogether, pulling all my books off virtual bookshelves, and going back to being a nobody with a private journal.

I do this EVERY time.

But the thing is, I can’t quit. Writing is the source of both my sanity and my insanity. It’s the very thing that allows me to breathe, and the very thing that makes me hold my breath. It’s both my fear and my comfort. It’s my Heaven and my hell. It’s the way I divulge the tiny portions of my life that are too private to talk about directly. If I couldn’t write, I would wither into nothing. I truly believe that.

At this very moment, I am fighting those demons of self-doubt, the ones who are whispering in my ear that I am not good enough or talented enough or special enough, the ones who are telling me that no one wants to read what I have to write, and I should just give up the charade and go back to hiding in the shadows. I am fighting them, and I will never stop fighting them. But I refuse to back down, because, as Anna Nalick sang, If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to…

The Writing Process Blog Tour!

Crissi Langwell:

My cousin, Erica, joined me on the Writing Process blog tour, and shared her own writing process. The way she writes, I swear it’s like swimming through silk! Go check her out. Heck, go subscribe to her blog to be kept up to date on everything she writes!

Originally posted on ericachretien:

When I was seventeen I sat down with my clarinet, made an audition tape (yes…tape…as in cassette), mailed it to the American Music Ambassadors, where it was accepted and a few months later I found myself on a whirlwind concert tour of Europe as part of a national student orchestra.  It was pretty rad, I’m not gonna lie.  We performed ten concerts in ten countries, had a private session in one of the finest recording studios in Switzerland and saw as much of Europe as you possibly can in two weeks.  I made some lifelong memories and you know what… I wasn’t the worst musician there.  I was second-worst.  Cross my heart.  I kinda sucked.  I was second-to-last chair (i.e., second from the very bottom after live auditions), and the two of us bottom-feeders bonded over being not-great together.  Hey, if you have to come in last, might as well do…

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