Amber Morrell

writer, reader, librarian

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On Meeting Authors

Melissa Meyer (right) and myself.

Marissa Meyer (right) and myself.

I’ve been very lucky in the past month or so to have the opportunity to meet with two authors that I admire: V.E. Schwab, the author of Vicious and the A Darker Shade of Magic series, and Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronicles series. Meeting an author is more than simply an opportunity to get your books signed and pose for a photo–which I definitely do, but these things don’t represent the total value.

To me, the most valuable thing about meeting authors I admire is perspective. Even if you interact with an author online, getting to meet them in person confirms that they are a flesh-and-blood person and not a magical-goddess-robot-writing machine (though they may also be that. Who knows.).

But seriously: meeting an author not only puts their writing into perspective, but also your own. Every time I meet an author I go home feeling inspired and reinvigorated to keep writing.

For one thing, authors often talk about their origin stories–at V.E. Schwab’s signing in Huntington Beach last month, with Gretchen McNeil and Marie Lu, the three authors dedicated an entire segment of the panel to their origin story. They discussed not only the origins of their characters and stories but also their publishing journeys, and all the sweat and blood and tears that go into the arduous, lengthy process. This is all about perspective–it gives context to the wonderful book you hold in your hands, and it reminds you that one day your random word vomit might also be a wonderful book.

V.E. Schwab (left) and myself.

V.E. Schwab (left) and myself.

I always leave author events running through all the imaginary panels I might one day be on through my head. What will I tell budding writers about the writing process? About the misery and pain it takes to create long form fiction? What will my signature look like? What will my origin story be?

With the internet, published and aspiring writers can interact easier than ever. I follow most of my favorite writers on Twitter, and often we might exchange a few words together. How invigorating it is! How amazing it feels when one of your favorite authors likes a tweet you sent them, or one that you simply mentioned them in. To put your heroes on a pedestal far above you, but to have them reach down and touch you in the smallest ways. It makes a difference.

I have a slew of events planned this spring where I will have the opportunity to meet many more authors and creative people. I’ll be attending the annual AWP conference, the LA Times Festival of Books, and YALLWEST. But no matter how many times I get to meet authors I’m still always excited about it. My pulse quickens and I can’t help but fangirl a little bit once I lay eyes on them in real life. When it comes to your heroes, you really can’t meet them enough.

At a recent signing I attended, I saw a girl bring a book up to Andrew Smith to get signed. He’d already signed it the last time she’d seen him, but she wanted him to sign it again. One signature is a stamp in time: it’s “that one time I met the author and it was awesome.” But two signatures creates a new temporality, one that’s a constant exchange between author and reader, one that says, “I care enough about you and your work to come back again and again.” I hope I have that experience myself someday.

REVIEW: THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME by Karen Rivers

51gubUXsmpL._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME by Karen Rivers
Release Date: March 15th, 2016
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Format: Ebook ARC from NetGalley
Purchase: Amazon

The Girl in the Well is Me is one of those books that has you laughing and crying at the same time. I absolutely adored Karen Rivers’ unique and funny voice, and her ability to really bring you in to Kammie’s head even as she loses coherency.

Kammie is smart and funny, if a bit naïve about certain things. It seems at first that she is just an average girl subjected to bullying while trying to fit in at her new school. But as the novel goes on it’s revealed that Kammie is anything but average; and discovering (as she suffers in a claustrophobic abandoned well) her troubled past is half the fun.

I really enjoy Kammie’s character because she seems like the type of character that’s usually on the other side of the coin. Wealthy, smart, good at ice skating and horseback riding—she is the kind of girl that might be the antagonist of the story, not usually the on you root for. And in a lot of ways, I did dislike her–but her self-realization that she was not the best person is part of why I like her. She starts to realize that personal identity is not linked to personal wealth, and that she can be who she wants to be without being a wealthy, popular girl.

While the voice of this novel is definitely where it shines most, I’m also really fond of the overall structure of how the story is told. Kammie spends most of the book inside a well. The action comes from the things she hallucinates, her interactions with the people outside of the well, and the slow revelations of her past. Despite the main character’s relative immobility, this book is still a page-turner. I found myself desperate to learn more about Kammie and her past life, but also anxious for her to escape her current predicament. Rivers is good at creating atmosphere and really making me feel claustrophobic right alongside Kammie. The unique voice and premise of this novel make it a winner for me.

five-star

The Wonderful World of Audiobooks

I recently started using audiobooks. I’ve known people that have been listening to them for years, but for some reason I never jumped on the bandwagon. There’s something I romanticized about curling up in bed with a good book and a cup of tea. Of listening to the characters’ voices in my head, in the way I imagined them. Of letting their words and actions reveal unsaid words written between the lines in ways only I could interpret. I’d tried listening to an audiobook once, years ago, and my mind wandered–I heard the words but I couldn’t pin down exactly what was going on, so I gave up. I never gave audiobooks another fair chance, until now.

For my YA lit class, we were divided into groups and assigned a popular YA novel to do a project on. I chose the Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell group, because it’s been on my TBR list and I already own the book. It turned out that the other members of my group had already read it! So I was already woefully behind in the project planning. I knew I had to read it in about a week, on top of all the other reading an English major is assigned, so I was starting to sweat a little. Knowing that I had a lot of driving to do over the weekend, I decided to borrow the audiobook through my library’s ebook and audiobook service called Overdrive and listen to it in the car.

I spent about four hours in the car that day, and I fell in love not only with the story, but the way it was being told. I loved that the narrators did different voices for different characters. I loved that their tone was sassy or panicked or angry or flippant when it needed to be. And I loved, beyond all else, that I could do other things while reading. The next day, at work, I sat at my desk and stared at my email screen while listening to the rest of it (don’t tell my boss). I even put it on 1.25x mode because I wanted to hear it faster. I finished the book on the car ride home and I realized that for all these years I’d been wasting valuable reading time. Whenever I was in the car, or walking to class, or doing the laundry, or vacuuming, I could have been reading!

As soon as I finished Eleanor, I quickly checked out another audiobook. This time it’s The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, which I’m about halfway done with (and don’t worry, I’m not listening to it at work).

This new ability to absorb novels through audio is revolutionary to my way of life. I’m already thinking about books and story all the time. Every waking moment my head is filled with characters and stories, whether they’re ones I’ve read or ones I want to write. But taking five lit classes means I don’t have a lot of time for personal reading; I’ve been doing a lot of “good for me” reading, like Mark Twain and Shakespeare some dense theory articles, but not fun reading. But now, I can do fun reading! And I don’t even feel guilty about it, because I’m doing it when I wouldn’t otherwise be doing school reading, anyway.

One of my worst habits is that I’m bad about doing chores. Laundry piles up, stacks of paper go unorganized, the carpet is usually covered with toys and crumbs. But yesterday, I put on my headphones and went through life in a dreamlike state. I did the laundry, washed the dishes, vacuumed, organized, got gas, picked up some groceries–all while having The Raven Boys dictated to me in a smooth, Southern drawl. Before I dreaded the times when I had to put the book down, pull myself out of bed, and get the laundry in the washer. But now I don’t have to, because I can my stories with me.

There is one downside to audiobooks: close reading is nearly impossible. I get the story, but I might miss words here or there. I can’t go back and reread a sentence to see if there’s a deeper meaning. I can’t judge for myself the tone of a character; I’m completely dependent on a narrator to dictate it for me. For that reason, I don’t think audiobooks will work for most school work, especially where close analysis is involved. For novels that I read for fun, however, I think audiobooks are the perfect medium.

Everyone Starts Somewhere

I’m still toiling away on edits of my MG time travel project, which I’ve decided to call (for now) SPLINT. I gave myself a deadline of the end of January to finish all the rewriting I planned, and I actually seem on track to meet that goal, perhaps even a bit early. I really want to try to finish before the semester starts on Monday, although that’s complicated by the fact that I’ve already received reading assignments for classes that haven’t even started yet.

After I’m done with those revisions I’ll have an actual, complete “first draft” which will, of course, need one (or more) additional passes before I can give it to my very lovely and very patient beta readers. But because the semester is starting and I won’t have the time to devote as much attention as I’d like on the project, I think I might shelve it for a while. It’s been in my brain for so many months now that I’m starting to feel exhausted by it. I’d like to take a step back and let it simmer. I want to forget what I wrote so that when I go back and read it for further edits I can see it more objectively–see what works and what doesn’t without being so entrenched in the details as I am now.

Plus I think I might only be able to work on personal projects on Monday nights, when I go to my writer’s group. Two to three hours one day a week is hardly enough time to devote to editing, and I want to be able to give SPLINT the attention it deserves, and a few measly hours once a week aren’t enough.

So I’m going back to my old project. One I’ve been working on since 2013 and has, since then, taken on multiple forms that are all very, very different from each other. My writer group friends know it as my Griffin project, but it needs a new name since the creatures aren’t really griffins at all anymore–they’re something different. I’ve spent the last few months that I haven’t been working on it thinking about it from time to time, and today I wrote some notes about the direction I want to take it. My scope in previous drafts was much too big, so I have to simplify the story or split it up. Right now I’m leaning toward the latter, so we’ll see how it goes. I hope getting back in the trenches of playful word vomit will be a nice break from schoolwork and from SPLINT.

The fact that my writing hasn’t really gone anywhere or been ready to do anything other than sit in my brain and on my hard drive gets me down sometimes. Yesterday I really needed some inspiration, so I decided to read some blogs by authors I admire to see if I could glean any insight from them. Specifically I was reading V.E. Schwab’s blog, because I love her writing and she’s extremely prolific on the novel front and I basically want to be her. I especially admire that she writes across categories, having releases in MG, YA, and Adult, which is something I see myself doing.

Anyway, I absolutely loved her blog and after I was several pages in I wondered when she started it. Did she start it as a way to market her books? Or did she have her blog before she ever even got published. Turns out her blog goes way back to before she even landed an agent. And for some reason, reading through her frustrations at the publishing process gave me hope. Because we all start somewhere. And I made a tweet about it, which was pretty well received on Twitter.

I’m not sure if this post was supposed to depressing or inspirational. I guess it just is what it is.

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