Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

The set-up: Aria comes from an enclosed city, protected from the Aether and harsh environments (and people) on the outside. Perry’s had to fight for survival his whole life.

Main characters’ goals: Aria’s goal is to find her mother (even if it means lying to her ally); Perry’s goal is to find his nephew. Their goals are pretty constant, although their methods change throughout the story as the two of them, ahem, get to know each other better.

My reaction: WOW. This is a whole new world, and, honestly, one I only want to encounter between the covers of Rossi’s books. It’s a scary place, filled with scary people – and the people in Aria’s home-pod are just as frightening as those inhabiting Perry’s world on the outside. Beyond the bad guys, though – some of the supporting cast are memorable wonderful people, and I can’t wait to read more about them! (Hellllooooo, Roar!)

Of interest to writers: Personally, I find alternating points of view difficult – not just to write, but to read. In Under the Never Sky, though, the alternating POV was really smooth. So why does it work so well here? Check out how Rossi has expertly differentiated between her characters – not only their personalities, but the differences in their diction, style, and tone.

(Third to) Bottom line: The concept alone will blow your mind. The concept coupled with great writing make this book a total winner.

Reminds me of: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

For more on Under the Never Sky and Veronica Rossi, you can visit her personal blog here, and her blog with the YA Muses here.

Last thing, I promise: While looking for a good image of the cover, I found some of the international covers on Veronica’s blog (click here to go there). Seriously cool. I think the Dutch cover may be my favorite. Which is yours?

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

First, disclaimer: Katherine and I are friends in real life. Second: even if I weren’t friends with her, I’d be reviewing this book anyway because it totally rocks. Like, stay-up-way-past-bedtime-reading rocks. And I’m not usually drawn to historical fiction.

The set-up: The year is 1539. Kitty Tylney and Catherine (Cat) Howard are best friends…or as close as best friends can be when one is kind of a jerk, like Cat.

Main character’s goals: At first, Kitty just wants to go to Court, and wear fine clothes and be somebody. But then her goals change, and I don’t want to risk spoilers, so I’ll just say maybe these new goals have to do with a dude, and maybe the new goals have to do with Cat’s marriage to the king, and maybe both. Or, you know, neither.

My reaction: The writing is so pretty! When the book comes out and I read it again (because I’ll have my own sparkly copy with its beautiful cover…probably signed by the author, hint, hint) I’m going to do a better job of savoring the beautiful prose. On the first read, savoring was nearly impossible because I just wanted to freaking find out what happened already. It was tense, and dangerous, and sexy, and just all around marvy. If I could write historical fiction (as in, stomach the research involved), I’d want this to be my book. As it is, Katherine enjoys research (see her interview here) so she gets to do it for me.

A second reaction: sometimes in historical fiction, I don’t feel entirely “there” in the setting. But in Gilt, I was there, and I was loving it.

Of interest to writers: When Katherine wrote this book, historical YA was not a big thing at all. In fact, many agents weren’t even interested in it. I keep coming back to the advice she gave in her interview: “Don’t second-guess whether or not your concept will sell.  If a story and character come to you, write them down.  That passion will come through in your writing…Passion sells.  And in the long run, writing what you love is the ultimate reward.”

Bottom line: Beautiful story, believable and compelling characters – it’s a total win. I’m just sorry you have to wait until the May 15th release date to read it!

Reminds me of: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (Gilt takes place a century later, but life-and-death court intrigue is still a focal point).

For more on Gilt and Katherine Longshore, you can visit her personal blog here, and her blog with the YA Muses here.

NiFtY Author Katherine Longshore

I’ve had the immense pleasure of getting to know Katherine through SCBWI and through following her (and her critique group) through their blog at the YA Muses. Here today, we get some questions answered about her upcoming debut novel, GILT, due out in May from Viking/Penguin.

BH: Welcome, Katy!

KL:  Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Beth!  It’s a pleasure to be here.

BH: Tell us a little about GILT. (To our studio audience, click here to read about Katy’s agonizing title-selection process.)

KL: I came up with the idea to write “something” about Catherine Howard several years ago.  She is often depicted as an air-headed little tramp, and I just felt there was something else about her that needed to be told. And then the voice of her best friend came to me, to do the telling.

BH: What were some of the joys of writing this book?

KL: I love being able to reach deeply into history, to live and breathe it. I love that I can find a connection to historical characters, and hopefully create that connection for my readers as well.

BH: If you had a daughter, which of Kitty’s attributes do you wish she shared? Which ones would you never want to see her display?

KL:  I love Kitty’s loyalty.  She has strong convictions and believes that friendship is sacred.  But it’s that same loyalty – a misguided loyalty – that gets her into trouble.  So I would wish for my daughter to value friendship, and to be loyal to it, but to have the insight to apply it to worthy people.

Katherine's Critique/Blogging Group - yes they are wearing endearingly dorky sweatshirts at SCBWI-LA 2011

BH: The other day we were discussing a writing slump you’d been in with the second book in this series. What do you do to get yourself out of a slump? Or do you wait for it to pass?

KL:  I think it depends on how deep the slump is. Sometimes, I can get over a block by just continuing to keep my bum in the chair, my fingers on the keyboard, and my mind spinning. Sometimes I have to write a kissing scene. If it gets really bad, I bake. If it gets worse, I clean. But the one we were talking about the other day is the worst I’ve ever experienced, and I cried. A lot. It helped to be able to talk about it with a good, close writing friend. But the only thing I could do was wait it out. My house was pretty clean that week.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

KL: No matter how hard I try to keep it tidy, my workspace is always a mess. It’s a little desk in the window bay of my bedroom, looking out into the back garden, where I can watch the hummingbirds and scrub jays. I’m surrounded by books, and a giant poster on the wall with the entire genealogical heritage of the British royal family on it. Plus my storyboard.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

Katherine's Storyboard

KL: Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. She is so honest. I suppose the ultimate appeal isn’t her description of craft, though her take on character, dialogue, and setting is spot on. For me, it’s the fact that she gives me permission to write a shitty a first draft, she acknowledges the radio station that plays constantly in my head, and she understands the pain and joy of it all.

BH: Any words or advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

KL: Love what you do.  Don’t try to write to trends or stay ahead of them.  Don’t second-guess whether or not your concept will sell.  If a story and character come to you, write them down.  That passion will come through in your writing, and it won’t matter if it’s another vampire book, or that mermaids were so last year or that historical novels don’t sell.  Good writing sells.  Passion sells.  And in the long run, writing what you love is the ultimate reward.

BH: The end. Seriously,  just read Katherine’s response above, over and over again. Thanks, Katy!

ETA: Today through Tuesday, December 12, you can enter to win an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) of GILT. See this post at the YA Muses for details!

Blog:  http://yamuses.blogspot.com

http://katherinelongshore.blogspot.com

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/KALongshore

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/katy.longshore?ref=ts

Baker’s Dozen Auction…again

This is not a Momming Around post. It was a toss-up: either write about what happened yesterday with the Baker’s Dozen Auction, or give a list of reasons why I should move into our bathroom (it’s actually a compelling list – you may see it posted in the future).

Yesterday, I was all set up to do multiple page refreshes and comment-feed checks. Like, for hours. I had no idea how the auction would play out, and frankly, not a lot of faith in myself or my writing at that point.

That’s not entirely true. I vacillated between, “I am the QUEEN WRITER and no one can eff me up!” and “Woe is me, my writing is horrible, and why did I ever listen to Kristen about entering this silly, silly contest where the agents will ridicule me in the comments section and tell me to get a job raising goats in a remote, cold country that has no computers or typewriters or notebooks.” Sadly, I was mostly in the second, insecure frame of mind.

So yesterday morning, I left home at 8 to drop Z off at school. When we arrived at school, I received a text message. It was Melissa, telling me I had a bid!

By the time I got home, I’d received numerous extra text messages from Melissa, each one spazzier than the last, culminating with the Big News: a full manuscript request. In all this time, I was trying to turn my laptop on and actually SEE the bids, because I was convinced that some jerk out there was pretending to be agents and making bids even though he was a jerk and not an agent, so that suckers like me would get all excited and squeal and dance and then find out, the lottery ticket was a total fake (see: joke my high schoolers played on me for my birthday) (I haven’t actually written about that and I never will, because it was a cruel, cruel trick and besides you get the idea anyway).

To my non-writing friends in the studio audience: no, this does not mean the book is being published, and no, it doesn’t even mean I have an agent. It means that the winning agent who has excellent taste (especially based on the other entries she bid on), will read my manuscript. That’s all. She will read it, and do one of (I think) three things: 1) offer representation, 2) suggest revisions and invite me to resubmit the manuscript, or 3) decide the project isn’t for her (boo) but hopefully give me a clue why (yay!).

The bids were exciting, and it was fun to watch the bidding on the other entries, as well. But I think the truly beautiful thing about the whole experience was being a part of that group, that community of writers who were cheering for each other and encouraging each other and giving just the best critique and feedback they had to offer.

Miss Snarks’ First Victim has secret agent contests on a nearly-monthly basis, and in-house critique sessions, in addition to the annual Baker’s Dozen Auction. If you write fiction, I strongly recommend joining in the fun, because you won’t be disappointed in the talented, warm-hearted people who frequent her blog.

ETA: the auction from an agent’s perspective: click here for Josh Getzler’s blog post.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

The set-up: Andi has been too busy grieving and losing herself in her guitar music to take the time to start the thesis required for graduation from her private school. When her dad discovers how bad Andi’s situation has gotten, he whisks her off to Paris (poor Andi) to make her get to work (Paris, but with homework? Really, this time, poor Andi).

Main character’s goals: Andi wants to go back in time, to save her brother. The loss of him is too much for her (she escapes into her music and her antidepressants), it’s too much for her mother (she escapes into her painting and periods of catatonia), and it’s too much for her father (he up and leaves the family). I would say at the start of the story, Andi doesn’t have much of a goal, but once she’s in Paris her goal is to get back to her mother. Then she finds an old diary, and strange things happen.

My reaction: This was a book to savor. I wasn’t rushing through it, trying to reach the end, but I did want to hang out with Andi for awhile, hear what she had to say. And I’m still divided as to what really happened (we have a bit of an unreliable narrator going, what with the substance abuse, so the last half of the book is…a little different. I don’t want to spoil anything by saying more).

Of interest to writers: I really have a hard time with epistolary novels. If you want to incorporate a diary, or letters and notes or emails, then you had better do it well. Otherwise, I will hate your book. Aim for what Donnelly has done in Revolution, or what Jaclyn Moriarty does in The Year of Secret Assignments. For an example of what NOT to do…[] That is the sound of me biting my tongue. I am trying to be kind here. If you really want to know what I read recently that had a sucky diary thing going, send me an email.

Bottom line: So. This book is awesome.

To visit Jennifer Donnelly’s website, click here.

Reminds me of: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.