I Know What You Read Last Summer

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It’s the middle of August and the summer season is almost over. Goodbye to having your toes in the sand; goodbye to having your hands on the beach bar ordering a fishbowl from the bronze bartender; goodbye playing volleyball on the beach; goodbye to the summer sun making sure your skin isn’t pale. This is a tough time of year, but enjoy it while it lasts.

Before you move back to school or start staying in on the weekends, enjoy the rest of the summertime on the beach (or in your backyard) with a last minute summer read to keep you dreaming of the sun!

  • Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
    Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence,
    Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian Jetset; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.
  • The Island, by Victoria Hislop
    A richly enchanting novel of lives and loves unfolding against the backdrop of the Mediterranean during World War II, The Island is an enthralling story of dreams and desires, of secrets desperately hidden, and or leprosy’s touch on an unforgettable family.
  • Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty
    In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations [of] our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.
  • The Girls, by Emma Cline
    Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.
  • The Strings of Murder, by Oscar de Muriel
    1888: a violinist is brutally murdered in his Edinburgh home. Fearing a national panic over a copycat Jack the Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey. Frey reports to Detective “Nine-Nails” McGray, local legend and exact opposite of the foppish English inspector. McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond belief…
  • The Fireman, by Joe Hill
    In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

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If you are travelling down the self-publishing path, then creating a book cover is going to be another part of your publishing journey. After walking through aisles and aisles of books at the local B&N, I started to notice the similarities amongst some of the genres. There’s a cycle a writer should keep in mind when creating the cover to their book. If you were the book, the process would go a little something like this:

  1. Get noticed by the potential reader browsing all your friends on the bookshelf or Amazon page.
  2. Either you’re picked up or clicked on, because you’re just that interesting.
  3. If you’re exactly what the potential reader wants, they’ll buy you.
  4. Of course, they’ll read you.
  5. After they’re done, they’re going to talk about you to other people. They’ll entice their peers with your inspiring and rich content.
  6. Let this process repeat.

But, how can you get to step one? A good cover takes a couple different factors into account. For a fiction novel, you won’t want to include too much text. The title, author name, and maybe an essential quote from the book or a shortened quote from a reviewer is more than enough to do the trick. When you add too much text, it becomes too much for a the reader to consume or it might reveal too much about your novel. This can cause the reader to quickly put your book back on the shelf or scroll onto the next book. Quick catchphrases or quotes can sometimes be a good subheading – but make sure it doesn’t go much beyond a sentence. If images help your novel pop, make sure the image used is significant to the plot of your novel. It becomes visually appealing when a story about a dog, has a dog on it (or whatever the story may be). When you pick the right image, a reader can get just as much information about your novel from just looking at the cover as they can from reading its summary.

Let’s use Caraval by Stephanie Garber as an example. The cover of Caraval is a happy medium between being too boring and too active. The bright white color font of the title pops out at you, so you are immediately drawn to the title. The lettering intertwines elegantly with the star design without being too intrusive, adding a little extra pizzazz without hindering your ability to read the text easily. The glittery stars within the star design, against the space background, flow together in a simple manner. When creating your cover, you want to reflect the story you’re telling. In Garber’s novel, her main character, Scarlett, must find her sister in five nights while being surrounded by magic and performances (therefore, the star design on the cover mirrors the nighttime or bursts of magic within the novel).

If you are a visual artist, as well as a wordsmith, you might want to take it upon yourself to create your own cover because you know the image you wish to convey to your readers better than anyone else. Or recruit someone you may know or a trusted cover designer to work with you to create the perfect cover that will bring your story to life. Regardless of how your cover is made, you want to be able to appeal to your readers and represent your book in an exceptional way that wouldn’t allow it to be looked over by browsers.

Is That Crazy Enough For Ya?

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In the ‘60s and ‘70s, women in literature were portrayed far differently than they are today. With today’s image of women, characters like Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, Lucy Pevensie, Hermione Granger are some of our generation’s role models. They are praised for their strong will, independence, and successes. Prior to the creation of these characters, readers were often exposed to a different side of women: the crazy side.

Beware, there will be spoilers!

The first book we have is Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann. With this tale that follows the lives of three women, who are also dear friends of one another, one character truly stood out the most: Neely O’Hara. Her actions made me want to rip my hair out, shake some sense into her, and most of all throw my book across the room. She stands as one of the prime examples of how women have been mistreated in the entertainment business and how that shaped their future. Neely juggled drug addiction, alcoholism, weight gain/weight loss, along with attempted suicide on many occasions for a mere amount of attention from the media – and somehow still thrived. Her lowest point in the novel was when she had been admitted by her friend, Anne Welles, into an asylum for the insane after a suicide attempt that made her lose everything. She was deemed insane, but in reality she was just battling with severe anxiety due to her image in Hollywood being threatened by the newest, up-and-coming starlet. Instead of those around her trying to give her the appropriate resources for success, it was easier for them to put a false label on her problems and forget about them.

Another book, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, follows a woman in the 1950s during her stay at a mental hospital and tells the story of her recovery. Esther Greenwood reflects Sylvia Plath’s own journey after being diagnosed with depression. Plath’s trajectory to recapturing her mental stability takes the same dives as Esther’s, but instead of having a hopeful ending, Plath passed away by her own hand in 1963. The Bell Jar considers the treatment of women with mental illnesses, as well as having an optimistic view on recovery. For Esther, being a woman means being under constant pressures about marriage, being forced to not excel in the workforce, and her body only being a vessel for her future children. All things that many women take for granted today.

A third example is Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. The initial prognosis for the young Miss Kaysen was that she was living with depression. She was diagnosed by a psychiatrist she didn’t visit regularly or know. This lead to her admittance into McLean Hospital in 1967. Upon evaluation, the 18-year-old is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The most important aspect of Kaysen’s retelling of her life is how she describes the treatment within the hospital. She notices the difference between how the medical personnel treat the sane and the insane. She also takes the time to examine mental illness versus recovery. Having a first-hand account of what it was like to be a woman with a mental illness, really brings home the validity of the issues the previous novels highlighted. “Crazy” was a solution, an answer, rather than an illness.

The last novel on the list is The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The ‘70s did not treat the Lisbon sisters as well as many thought. The suicides revolved around the family of seven: Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon and their five girls. All five daughters had ultimately ended their own lives, but the start of it was with the youngest sister: Cecilia. After her initial attempt to end her life, she told the doctor that he didn’t know what it was like to be a 13-year-old girl. She felt alone and her heartbreak pushed her into a depressive state, but the ignorance of her parents forced her into a deeper hole than expected. Upon questioning, no one noticed whether the girls had or had not given off warning signs. The idea of this novel is to explore how their mental illness was overlooked by all members of the community, including the Lisbon parents. Education about these illnesses and what they look like has certainly come a long way. Something that used to not be talked about at all, is now not an uncommon topic among parents, friends, or co-workers.

All in all, female characters in literature have evolved to become more independent and stronger. Although our generation has been exposed to the more sane side of women, we needed the women who had succumb to the dark side of their minds; for the readers who could relate to their troubles, for the readers who need the realistic representation of the world written in a novel. Sometimes we need to know where we come from, the trials and tribulations, to see how we’re going to change where we go.

The World of Wattpad

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In 2006, Wattpad was created. With 11 years under the company’s belt, the free platform for writing has accomplished plenty. People behind Wattpad have built ties with major publishing houses (yes, we’re talking Random House, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Sourcebooks). One success story from Wattpad is Anna Todd with her AFTER Series, originally published online. Of course not everyone gets to see the rise to fame like Todd did, but services like Wattpad are making their mark on assisting authors to get noticed.

From 2014 alone, 85% of Wattpad’s traffic and usage came from mobile devices. Each month, there were 35 million unique visitors, including users. OVER 100,000 chapters are uploaded each day and OVER 2 million dedicated writers use the service

If you’re not involved or familiar with the platform, Wattpad provides a few different services. As a member, you have access to “Clubs,” which are groups for members who seek help from one another or feel the need to discuss topics relating to writing. Wattpad is also known for The Wattys- an award system created to reward writers for their stories with members participating in the votes. There are also many writing contests held for writers to challenge their own ability and to earn some credentials to their name. There is a collaborative space for beginners to learn from the stars of Wattpad how to navigate the website and how to create a fanbase. Lastly, Wattpad also hosts a writing exercise for participating writers called #JustWriteIt, a 30-day writing challenge.

As a writer, there are some pros and cons with joining Wattpad so if you’re interested in being published or if you are still deciding if the service is right for you, you will want to consider both sides:

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Write on.

The Necessary Genre: Chicklit

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Also known as “chick literature,” chicklit was created in the ‘90s. It reached its peak in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, mainly following middle-class white women. The plot normally follows these female character’s lives with a humorous and light-hearted story about ordinary troubles in womanhood – sometimes focusing on the romantic relationships, female friendships, and issues in the work place. As a genre that seemed to be “for women, by women”, men took their turn in writing their own versions of what chicklit seemed to be as well.

Unfortunately, chicklit is not as popular as it once was. In a day and age where the gender divide is slowly being demolished, titles published with a label like chicklit aren’t taken as seriously as say… a romcom with a shapeshifter billionaire lover who falls for the mail-order bride, who just so happens to be pregnant with his baby from a forgotten encounter. The romance market has become so oversaturated that readers are more drawn to unique characters with unique story lines. It’s also hard for chicklit to hold up against a classic horror from someone like Stephen King.

Don’t get me wrong, we all love a classic or creative story – but what about a story about everyday life?  To me, that is what chicklit is all about. It’s also the very reason that chicklit will always be necessary. Chicklit not only brings normalcy to an anything-goes literary market, but it also serves as a safe place  for women who need a place to escape and not feel alone in the issues of their everyday lives. Most chicklit plots are more relatable than any other novel (since, you know…shapeshifter lovers are pretty hard to find nowadays). Chicklit reminds its readers that they aren’t the only one with romantic strife, back stabbing girlfriends, or work place drama. Writers in the chicklit genre often write based on experience. So, if the story was penned then there is at least one other person out there experiencing something similar to you and that goes a long in way in making a scary world seem more friendly. And trust me, there are many more women experiencing the same thing, not just one.  Women’s fiction, feminist authors, chicklit titles … they’re all needed now more than ever.

So, I encourage you to pick up a chicklit at your local bookstore or download a quick read through your Kindle. If you are feeling really empowered, maybe even take your fingers to the keyboard of your computer and create your own work for women because we can certainly use it. The literary market needs more strong female leads who don’t fight misogyny that has been internally brewing since her birth. We need more female CEOs of multi-billion-dollar companies, we need more average 20-somethings who are climbing the social ladder by NOT sleeping with anyone but perhaps by just being a decent human being with a sparkling personality.

Who knows, maybe it’ll get picked up for a movie deal and Beyonce is cast as your main lady squeeze. We can all dream, right?

Amazon’s Kindle in Motion

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If you haven’t heard of Kindle in Motion (KiM) yet, it’s the newest bit of technology introduced by Amazon. KiM includes art, animation, and/or video to assist in the storytelling of a book. In the select novels that have been incorporated into KiM, the art and animation have been used for the fairy tale and classical retellings while video (using actors) are used more for the contemporary books. KiM is compatible with most devices (phones, tablets, and eReaders) and there is an option to turn off the “motion.”

To grasp an idea of what Amazon has invested in, I chose to read one of the titles- The Protectors by Alison Stine. This book, based on magic realism, includes all forms of interaction incorporated with Kindle in Motion (art, animation and video). I purchased the book for my iPhone but downloaded the book onto an iPad to compare the two reading platforms. Between these two devices, the only difference was the size of the screen. With the phone edition, some of the lettering had been squeezed into the format to the slightest extent. For the tablet format, everything was spaced evenly and the quality of the motion content was better.

As a consumer, the best part about KiM is there isn’t an additional charge to activate the motion in the book. If the technology isn’t your cup of tea, switch it off and return to the basic reading format. Depending on which is purchased, there are countless images that are incorporated into the novel. In Stine’s book, the graffiti aspect of the plot is assisted with the images, adding to the aesthetic.

 

If you want to create more stimulation and interaction with your readers, an author may want to consider expanding into KiM. It’s new technology, making it appealing to readers, even some who may not enjoy reading altogether. The downfall about this new interactive technology is the fact that it is so new. With nearly a year under their belt and very few original titles incorporated, it may take some time before it becomes popular. One of the better aspects of “motion” is the “full-bleed” format. This allows for there not to be forced margins.

So, how does this all relate to you as an author? It can potentially make your book more aesthetically appealing to readers, perhaps bringing some new readers to you simply for the fact that they want to give KiM a try. It might also gain you some extra revenue from people who don’t normally read books or from people who have trouble reading. Having a visual element might make the whole reading experience easier for people who struggle with it or don’t enjoy it. It is also nice to see that the animation and video improvise the storytelling. If done right, all these elements complement each other nicely and make for a whole different experience than we are typically used to, which can be refreshing. Although both a pro and a con, KiM allows authors to utilize their own vision when picking the images they wish to portray to their readers. KiM is another tool that an author can use to effectively communicate with their readers.  At the same time, this can potentially limit the readers own imagination which is one of the best things about reading.

KiM could be a complete game changer for non-readers or a nice change of pace for avid readers. But, it’s definitely not for everyone and I can understand why someone wouldn’t like it. It has a long way to go before it becomes main stream, but I am glad I gave it a try.

Write on.