[BOOKTOUR] Alyssa Sheinmel on writing

I’m so excited to host this guest blog from author Alyssa Sheinmel! After you’ve read her advice on writing, make sure you check out her new novel, FACELESS, and my review!


Writers are often asked what writing advice they would give to aspiring authors, to younger versions of themselves, or to just about anyone who has a story to tell. 

I always give the same answer, and I have to admit, it’s pretty simple. (Plus, it’s something most people who write love to do anyway.) It’s just one word and only a single syllable. It’s also one of my favorite words in the whole world.

Read.

Okay, I know that’s not the most insightful suggestion. It’s not particularly original.   I mean, you’ve probably heard that piece of advice a dozen times before, right?

I could at least be more specific. Like by suggesting a particular author or genre or style or author. Here goes – not just one but three more specific reading suggestions:

1. When I was in college, one of my favorite teachers told me to read writers who wrote the type of writing that I hoped to do myself someday. And I learned a lot from that type of reading, and continue to do it every chance I get.

2. Or, when I’m feeling a bit blocked, there are a few authors whose writing never fails to inspire me – writers whose work I look up to, whose stories are usually very different from the stories I’m trying to tell, but who tell the stories so well that just reading them feels like a lesson. (Just a small sample of these writers: Joan Didion, Mary Gordon, Alice Hoffman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway.)

3. I also get very motivated to write by researching the project I’m working on. In the case of Faceless, that meant reading a lot of articles about face transplants and immunosuppressive drug regimens. I’m a research-happy writer, and reading information about the story I’m telling always gets me that much more excited to tell it.

But … at the end of the day, I keep coming back to that one syllable. Read. Because I really do believe that every single thing I’ve ever read has taught me something about how to tell a story – books that I’ve loved and books that weren’t necessarily my cup of tea. Novels and non-fiction. Essays and articles. Even – and I really mean this – textbooks. (There’s one psychology textbook I read over a decade ago that I still think about all the time.) Everything has something to teach you – or at least, I feel like it has something to teach me. Ideas can come from the most unexpected of places. A textbook taught me to insert humour into a dry topic. Magazine articles have prompted (sometimes completely unrelated) story ideas. Novel after novel has shown me beautiful and unexpected sentences. Essays have improved my vocabulary. For me, the essential thing isn’t always what I’m reading; sometimes it’s just enough that I’m reading. It’s still (and I suspect always will be) the piece of advice I most often give to myself about writing: just sit down and pick up a book.

-Alyssa Sheinmel

[REVIEW] Mosquitoland – David Arnold

mosquitolandSummary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

Review
Being called out of class isn’t exactly a new one on Mim, but overhearing the principle discussing her mother’s deteriorating health with her father and step-monster certainly is. And it’s the last straw. Dragged 1,000 miles away to live in Mississippi when her parents divorced, Mim decides it’s about time she made good on her plans to visit her mum in Ohio. Stealing all the money in the house she can find, Mim jumps on the next Greyhound bus and sets off into the world to make things right.

MOSQUITOLAND has a simple but fast-paced plot that is built around the characters Mim encounters on her journey to find her mother. Making plenty of friends and enemies on the way to her mother, Mim’s story is one of humanity and, like all good road trips, figuring out where she stands on family, friends and matters of the heart (in all their incarnations). I never knew what was coming next with Mim, she’s as unpredictable as they come, with all the accompanying excitement.

David Arnold’s style is perfectly pitched between humour and gravity, and feels incredibly genuine from our young heroine’s mouth. Despite spending a fair amount of time travelling and waiting, there is never a dull moment in MOSQUITOLAND with a pace which flows quickly throughout the whole novel.

Told through a combination of letters to Isabelle and an up-close and personal first person narrative, getting inside Mim’s head is an extremely simple, if not occasionally uncomfortable, experience. Medicated at the insistence of her protective father, knowing that what Mim is thinking and feeling is real isn’t entirely straightforward.

Mim is just about the bravest, most relatable, most human YA protagonist that I have yet to come across (and please let there be more). Melinda Salisbury gave a passionate speech at YAShot this year on feminism and the notion of strong female protagonists. She said that being strong is so much more than just having a ‘sassy’ narrative or a physical advantage, that there a million different ways to be strong, from standing up for what you believe in to having the courage to walk away. For me, Mim represents exactly what Melinda was talking about. She is a real human being who is full of the bravado of a confident teenager to the world but, in reality, is just as confused and anxious as everyone else.

Mim may have a funny, nonchalant voice but it is her true self that really makes MOQUITOLAND stand out as honest, liberating and most importantly, believable. The way she interacts with other characters isn’t always flattering, but she does have more redeeming features than she probably even realises. Her partners in crime: Arlene, Walt, Beck and a whole host of Carls, are just as well developed and endearing as she is.

It’s the things that Mim learns about herself on the way to rescue her mother that absolutely brings this novel to life; it takes guts to drag yourself 1,000 miles from home. I truly loved the deeper message of self-acceptance behind this book and can only hope that more readers find that same warmth, to make MOSQUITOLAND a quiet classic for years to come.

I received MOSQUITOLAND in exchange for an honest review from Headline. My reviews always represent my own opinion. 

[GIVEAWAY] Throne of Glass Goodies

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I picked up the first book in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas a long while ago but lots of ARCs have kept me from getting started. I’m so excited to finally have the time to delve into these books and I wanted to share a little giveaway with you all!

These adorable Throne of Glass badges are made by the brilliant Hooked on Books, and I have one set to give away to a lucky winner!

To enter just follow my Twitter account @fireflyreads and RT the below tweet, easy!  The competition is open internationally and will close on 30th November 2015 at 11pm GMT.

Please make sure you check out my Giveaway Policy before you enter.

Good luck!

Charlotte x

[UCLPUB2015] Week 6 & 7

UCLPUB2015 AUTUMN

Welcome to my new blog series – UCLPUB2015! Every Sunday I’ll be posting a roundup of my week as a student on the UCL MA Publishing course, talking about my experiences and passing along any handy tips I pick up along the way. I’m so excited to share my journey with you and hope that maybe these posts will help other aspiring publishers too!

Week 6: 9th Nov – 13th Nov 

With no lectures during Reading Week, I wasn’t originally planning on writing a post to cover Week 6. I spent all my free time frantically finishing off my first assignment for the course and my usual three days at HarperCollins. I can’t believe that I’m over half way through the compulsory 20 day internship now; it’s absolutely flown by!

Even though I had to go into work on my birthday (welcome to the real world, sigh) I still managed to have a great time. All staff were invited to the HarperCollins Summer 2016 Highlights meeting, so I got a sneak peek at what each imprint is publishing next year and saw how each division works within the company umbrella. I marked off quite a few upcoming books in my guide that I’m excited for – I can’t wait for the Bondi Harvest cookbook (me, cooking? I know right) and there’s some seriously dark YA fiction that’s caught my eye too.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 21.30.28There was more than a little competition for the best presentation. Each imprint brought along prizes, specially filmed videos and even free cookies from Bake Off contestant Martha, but it was Collins, the education imprint, which really stole the show. Bringing in some beautiful animal helpers definitely brightened up my birthday. Just look at this gorgeous little thing!


 

Week 7: 16th Nov – 20th Nov

Back to working hard this week has me pretty worn out. The content has all been quite heavy-going but I’m trying my best to get through everything from both my internship and my course. I’ve not had much chance to update my book reviews this month but I’ve still been doing plenty of reading!

My group now knows which book we’ll be bringing to life for our Publishing Project module – our mythology collection! We’re so excited to create this for real so we took the opportunity on Tuesday to really get started on our schedule. We’ve been playing around with a few ideas for a name to fit our target market too; once we’ve decided there will be a Twitter and WordPress set up so please do keep an eye out for our open submissions. We’ll be looking for short stories and artwork/illustrations based on myths from all different cultures – I’d love to see as many of your ideas as possible!

giphy.gifOn Tuesday we also had a lecture on metadata from possibly the best named man in the business, Dr. Merlin Fox. It might not sound like the most thrilling of topics, but understanding how to search for, collate and handle data is such an important aspect of becoming a well-rounded publisher. As well as discussing ONIX, XML and BIC, we also chatted about book piracy. Before this week, I didn’t even realise that piracy was really an issue for publishers and authors, as it’s something I’ve only ever encountered in the music and film industries.

Thursday morning we learnt about how publishing contracts are written, the law they are based on and the premise of negotiation from both the author and the publisher’s point of view. It’s definitely interesting to see what’s important depending on which corner you’re fighting in! I feel a lot more confident with my contract knowledge after a couple of sessions and my internship in rights – I’m finding the law surrounding publishing and copyright a lot more interesting than I ever anticipated I would!

We finished up this week with some casual critical editing of early modern texts. As hopeless as I am at reading handwritten letters from the 1800s, learning about the process of transcribing, editing and presenting these old texts turned out to be pretty enjoyable. A good high-octane action tale about the race to LE MORTE D’ARTHUR manuscript always helps too! (Wait. Arthur… Merlin… Owls…?! 😳)

Charlotte x

[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

IDYLL_Cover2cSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

Review
A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him down. Travelling through decimated cities forgotten by everyone but faceless monsters, the brothers take their chances on a journey with their infected mother to find a cure and reunite their family.

Carefully and gradually terraformed over hundreds of years, Idyll has been shaped with the best parts of Earth in mind ready for colonisation. Rid of the unnecessary technology and life-extending pharmaceuticals we have come to rely upon, Idyll has been cultivated on the basis of earning your place, proving your worth and allowing natural selection to do her work. Beginning with the humble and tender care of earthworms and insects, generation after generation of the Starboard family has been trusted to farm creatures great and small. Now experienced ranchers, it is a large responsibility that Sam and Walt must leave behind, in the hope of a better life in the capital – Marathon.

The terror of falling into an endless sleep, infecting anyone close enough to hear the endless comatose mumbling of the trigger phrase, is exceptionally psychologically haunting. Destined to waste away and doom the people you love, The Lullaby is a brilliantly crafted motivator behind the narrative and poses much more than simple mortal threats. The details of the epidemic are well thought-out and small nods to its origins and purpose are intelligently woven into the story through short interludes. The reveal is intensely satisfying with every small piece of the puzzle falling logically into place in way that makes sense while still managing to catch you by surprise.

Our narrators’ opposing personalities make their interactions tense and intriguing, as while they have the same ultimate goals, Walt and Sam must juggle their differing methods and come to terms with their changing priorities. At times, Walt and Sam can be more alike than they realise, the dual narrative giving the reader an insight into how their time in quarantine has both wrenched them apart and solidified their shared morals and values.

Miriam and Virginia are fiery characters who push the brothers beyond their comfort zone and give them something tangible to fight for. With a mother wasting away on Walt’s basic medical training and a father they can only dream of finding, Miriam and Virginia keep them focussed on the road ahead. The sisters struck me in particular as, while they are manipulative and brave, they are still vulnerable and scared. They are neither damsels in distress nor one dimensional strong female characters, they are an honest blend of the two, characters that science fiction and YA needs right now more than ever.

From scientific discussions of the primordia teeming on the planet to the soft glow of the sister moons, it is apparent that a large amount of care and attention to detail has been paid in crafting the world of IDYLL. With a bittersweet ending that plays hope against despair, IDYLL is an exciting and heart-stopping race across a tragically beautiful new planet. Exploring both the physical and psychological effects of a sleeping curse-like plague, IDYLL challenges the reader to delve deeper into the story to discover what really caused the world to fall apart.

I received IDYLL from James Derry in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[GIVEAWAY] Geek Girl All Wrapped Up – Holly Smale

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I hope you’re excited for the brand new Geek Girl novel from Holly Smale, ALL WRAPPED UP!

To celebrate the launch of this festive little treat, I’ve managed to get my hands on a copy for one lucky winner! All you have to do is follow my Twitter account @fireflyreads and retweet my competition tweet – easy peasy!

The competition is open internationally and will close on 8th November 2015 at 11pm GMT.

Good luck!

Charlotte x

[REVIEW] Shadows of Self – Brandon Sanderson

Shadow-of-SelfSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“To the eyes of a man burning steel, Elendel was alight and full of motion, even while shadowed by darkness and mist. Metal. In some ways, that was the true mark of mankind. Man tamed the stones, the bones of the earth below. Man tamed the fire, that ephemeral, consuming soul of life. And combining the two, he drew forth the marrow of the rocks themselves, then made molten tools.”

Review
SHADOWS OF SELF sees the return of Waxillium Ladrian, trying to balance his responsibilities as a lord and a lawman. When the Governor’s brother is murdered whilst hosting the cities corrupt noblemen and women, Wax is quickly drawn into the investigation. With the city falling apart and the killer always preternaturally one step ahead, Wax is forced to come uncomfortably close to accepting the possibility that this is one case he simply can’t handle.

In the same style as ALLOY OF LAW, Wax ends up once again drawn into a tangled mess of crimes, mysteries and thrilling experiences. There is a distinctly Wild West feel to these Era 2 novels that widens the genre and brings a completely new aspect to the fantasy landscape. I really enjoyed this crossover and as a reader who usually avoids crime and thrillers, this sideways introduction might encourage me to give some of the more traditional novels in this genre a try.

My absolute favourite features of the Wax and Wayne novels are the subtle nods to the original trilogy. While ALLOW OF LAW and SHADOWS OF SELF can both be appreciated without having read the Mistborn books, Wax’s thrill being at one with the mists is so beautifully aligned with my memories of the first novels. It’s incredibly nostalgic to read about the religions dedicated to serving Kelsier, Vin and Sazed as well as revisiting old places with new characters.

As what is essentially the fifth book of a series, at first SHADOWS OF SELF doesn’t seem to have much scope for building on an already well established world. But, of course, this is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. Taking on the industrial boom of Scadrial, where Kelsier and Vin once raced through Elendel’s streets in darkness, Wax now flies above motorcars and electric lights. It’s amazing to see such a familiar world through fresh eyes and I loved getting to know this newly developed Scadrial 300 years after the main events. Even since ALLOY OF LAW there has been rapid development in weapons and transport; this world is vibrant and free from the ashes that plagued Vin’s era.

The new characters continue to develop and I’ve really grown to like the determined Marasi more and more throughout these novels. She has just the right amount of impatience and tempestuousness thrown in with her intelligent and determined demeanour. Wax continues to be brilliant and terrible in equal measure, making reckless decisions that both serve his pride and protect his people.

We see the return of some huge characters and creatures from the Mistborn trilogy to shake the plot up and I’m very excited to see where Brandon takes the future books. The twists were just that little bit more sophisticated, complete with a truly unpredictable and devious villain, and the pace is pitched perfectly, keeping the narrative steaming ahead straight into a shattering conclusion. Dropping some serious bombshells towards the end, it’s clear that Wax, Wayne and Marasi definitely have a lot of story left to tell.

I received SHADOWS OF SELF from Orion in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.