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Monster Mash – Round 2 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

This past weekend marked my 11th round of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to compete. I’m currently immersed in the latest draft of my novel, and shifting gears pained me. It pained me even more when I received my score for the first round of this year’s contest.

Two points!

Okay, okay. That’s not horrible considering I’ve never attempted to write pure comedy, and comedy is one of the most subjective genres out there.

Low score aside, I still had fun this weekend. Well, mostly…

As a quick reminder, NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. All competitors get to compete in two of the four rounds. This past weekend was the second round, which kicked off at 10 p.m. (MST) Friday when prompts were released.

First impressions of my group’s prompts:

Genre: Fantasy

Location: Waterfront esplanade

Object: Animal horn

When I saw my prompts, I went through a myriad of emotions all at once: horror, amusement, irritation, confusion. I mean, seriously, what the heck is an esplanade? I had to google it before I could do anything else. (FYI, an esplanade is “a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk.”)

Once I had my location prompt figured out, I turned to the main matter at hand: brainstorming a plot.

Per usual, I talked things out with my favorite writing critic: my mom. For the first time ever, we didn’t banter back and forth on how to approach the prompts. I already knew the general direction I wanted to take.

Goblins!

Yeah, yeah fantasy lovers. I know Gollum isn’t a goblin. However, I decided a long time ago that if I ever received fantasy in this contest, I’d write about a Gollum-goblin-like character. So, I did!

Next, I had to figure out the “animal horn” prompt. Obviously, my first thought was, “Unicorn!” I’m sure it was everyone else’s too, so I stayed far away from that and brainstormed other possibilities. As I did, my seven-year-old nephew curled up next to me with his tablet and watched one of his favorite videos: “Giant God Warrior” (a Japanese short fantasy monster action film). I stared at the creepy creature on screen, studied its horned back, and voila! I had an idea!

Well, sort of.

I packed up my computer and went home. By this point, it was approaching 1 a.m. and I’d been up since 4 a.m. So…yeah. The second I got home, I collapsed in bed and stayed there much longer than I usually do during these contests.

Once I found the motivation to get up on Saturday and start writing, my internet crashed. GAHHH! That threw me for a loop since I needed to do some much needed research on goblins.

[Cue twiddling thumbs, cleaning house, texting friends…]

An hour later, the internet returned, along with my focus. I sat down and spent the rest of the day hammering out a first draft. Mid-afternoon, my mom showed up to read what I’d come up with and help me chop over 600 words (doh!).

My favorite part of the contest occurred when my mom and I tried to think of names for my characters and the fantastical world they lived in: Letchmo. Catastrafo. Fodhopper. Evilgore. Mcnasty!

After we pulled ourselves together (and found a few serious names), my mom left and I sent a draft off to my beta readers. On Sunday morning, I awoke to their feedback. To my surprise, they liked it–much more than I thought they would.

Hallelujah!

I fixed the big problems, chopped the remaining 200 words I needed to chop in order to meet the word count limit, and submitted my story.

Was fantasy my favorite genre? No. Did I like the story I came up with? Yes. It’s not my favorite NYCM entry, but I’m proud to present it to the judges, my competitors, and, maybe someday, a publisher.

For those interested, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Zili”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Zili, a gentle goblin, wishes to walk in the light as a man. A horned creature grants his wish . . . and more.

If you’d like to read my entire entry, let me know and I’ll send you the password.

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!

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My Neil Gaiman Book Signing Adventure

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Neil Gaiman book signing.

And. It. Was. Epic!

16464868382_44a3911f73_kIt all began when a friend posted about the event on Facebook. At first, I hesitated because:

  1. The signing landed on a work day.
  2. It was at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins (about an hour and a half north of where I live).
  3. I didn’t want to go alone…Yep, I can be a scaredy cat who needs someone to hold her hand when she’s completely out of her element.

My resistance, however, crumbled when my friend solved two of my three dilemmas. He offered both company and a ride. I happily scheduled the day off of work and spent the next two weeks preparing myself to meet one of the most influential, inspiring, and creative authors around.

Yes. An adventure…

Dear God! I had no idea the book signing would be such an adventure. I completely underestimated Neil Gaiman’s popularity.

The epic day began when my friend and I departed Denver at 1 p.m. With the signing starting at 4 p.m., we figured this would give us plenty of time to deal with traffic, drive to Fort Collins, find the bookstore, and get a decent place in line.

Yeah, wishful thinking!

As we pulled up to the bookstore, I asked, “Is that the line?”

“Yeah, I think so.” My friend looked equally shocked by the crowd stretching from the bookstore’s entrance, down the sidewalk, and around the building. We parked the car, hurried across the street, and searched for the end of the line.

And searched…And searched…And searched…

Seriously! There were so many people. I couldn’t believe it.

We finally found the end of the line and hopped in. While we waited for the signing to begin, we marveled at Gaiman’s popularity, the ever growing line, and the eclectic crowd. It seemed everyone and their brother loved Neil Gaiman.

As my friend and I discussed some of Gaiman’s work, a woman behind us jumped into our conversation. Then the guy behind her jumped in as well. And, before we knew it, we were in a small chattering group.

Side note: It always amazes me how quickly book nerds bond. You can be total strangers one minute and best friends the next.

After about an hour, the line started moving.

An enthusiastic cheer went up!

…And then quickly died when we only moved a few feet.

Yeah, in that moment, I knew it was going to be a loooooong afternoon. But, hey, at least it was warm! We’d lucked out with the weather that day–an unseasonably warm 75 degrees!

In fact, it was so warm, I’d decided to leave my jacket at home. Why would I need one when I’d be back in the car by the time the sun set?

Yet another idiotic assumption on my part.

For the first three or so hours in line, I was relatively comfortable. My feet hurt a little, I was a tad hungry, and a bathroom break would’ve been nice. But nothing major. I could easily deal with it all.

Then the sun slowly set…

As the temperatures slipped and the first shiver hit me, my friend kindly offered to go get his jacket for me in his car. And what did I say? “Nah, I’m good. But, thanks.”

Gah! I’m so stupid and stubborn and stupid!

Note to self: It’s okay to accept help from others. You don’t have to suffer because you’re too proud to show weakness.

Thankfully, a bookstore employee came by with hand warmers and I was able to use them to heat up my hands, arms, and feet (don’t ask about the feet; my plan failed). I also tried to–subtly–steal body heat from those around me by scooting closer and closer.

Actually, the chilly weather became a bit of a joke amongst our group. As the hours wore on, we realized the line wasn’t moving. It was just condensing from all the people huddling together.

Anyway, being cold was by far the toughest part of the experience for me. Sure, I was hungry. And, yeah, I had to use the bathroom. And, duh, my feet, back, and head hurt. But it was the cold that nearly did me in.

Thank God for the amazing people keeping me company in line. If it hadn’t been for their entertaining conversation, relatable sense of humor, and (semi) fanatical enthusiasm, I would’ve given up on the five hour journey to the bookstore’s entrance.

10351912_334456836746871_7954107548591425517_nYes, you read that correctly. Five hours! And it took another hour of windy-weaving through the bookstore to reach Neil Gaiman.

As we drew closer and closer to the famous author, my nerves got worse and worse. I had no idea what I wanted to say when I handed him my book: “You’re an inspiration.” Or, “Thank you for all your advice to aspiring authors.” Or, “I love your work!” Or…?

Everything I thought of sounded dumb and cliche. And the closer we got to Gaiman, the more I panicked.

Finally, I decided to mimic those in front of me with a short and sweet, “Thank you.” Yeah, not exactly the most eloquent or memorable thing to say, but at least I wouldn’t embarrass myself with an epic fangirl moment: I’m, like, your biggest fan, like, EVER! That would’ve been mortifying. And, also, untrue. Yes, I’m a Gaiman fan, but no, I’m not the biggest one. I’m pretty sure that lofty title goes to a guy in our group. After he got his book signed, he looked ready to pass out.

As for me, well. I honestly can’t even tell you what happened when it was my turn to meet Neil Gaiman. I vaguely remember leaning in for a picture, and I think I stuttered through a pathetic “Thank you”, but other than that, I have no idea. I likely looked like an overwhelmed, OMG!, dazed moron.

Once I had my book signed, I staggered over to the exit to wait for my friend and the rest of our group. I’m not sure if it was exhilaration, exhaustion, or a combo of the two, but I had the worst urge to giggle. I couldn’t believe I’d just met Neil Gaiman!

I opened my book and admired his signature.

10390100_334456853413536_4687527123228986405_nOnce everyone had their books signed, we left the bookstore. By then, it was almost 10 pm. Sheesh!

After a failed trip to Starbucks (grrr, so annoyed they’d already closed for the night!), and a farewell to our buddies from the line, my friend and I returned to his car and made the trip home.

Later, as I collapsed in bed, I laughed and thought, “Did that really just happen?” Of all the ways for that day to go, I hadn’t expected it to go that way. But, you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing…Well, maybe I would’ve accepted my friend’s jacket, lol. But, besides that and the discomfort of standing in line for over six hours, I enjoyed every second of the Neil Gaiman book signing.

February 6th, 2015 will definitely go down as one of the funnest, craziest, and most adventurous days of my life. Thank you to those who stood in line with me and kept me distracted and motivated. And thank you to Neil Gaiman for being such a creative, inspiring, and patient author. I don’t know how you signed that many books without your hand falling off! Truly amazing.

If you’d like to read more about Neil Gaiman and his work, click here!

Neil Gaiman from Stardust QUOTES You have to believe-1

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Jen’s Top 10 “How Have You NOT Read This” YA Books

It seems lately whenever I bring up one of my favorite books/series, people respond with a blank stare, a careless shrug, or, worst of all, an “I’ve never heard of it” type of comment. AHHH! So, I decided it’s time for me to give you the heads up on some books you MUST read if you haven’t.

Jen’s Top 10 “How Have You NOT Read This?” YA Books

1. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

8490112On average, I read a book a week. AKA, I read a lot. However, no matter how many pages I turn, or how many stories I finish, Daughter of Smoke & Bone remains one of my favorites of all time. And it’s troubling how few people are even aware of it. No offense to Hunger Games  or Twilight, or even Divergent, but I wish the mass population would revere this story. Simply put, it’s awesome. Daughter of Smoke & Bone has everything a reader craves: intrigue, romance, humor, and, of course, adventure.

So go read it! And be sure to spread the word how awesome it is.

Check out my full review here!

2. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

11235712Sighhhhh…Just…God, just go read this series, okay? I can’t even begin…I can’t even tell you…AHHH! Just read it. Goooo.

Check out my full review here!

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

136251Believe it or not, there are still people in the world who haven’t read Harry Potter. *cue gasps* Every time I encounter one of these rare beings, they usually tell me, “Well, I tried watching the movies, but I just wasn’t into them.”

…That’s all I have to say about that.

*clears throat*

READ HARRY POTTER!

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

19063-1When people ask me, “What’s your favorite book?” I first glare at them, and then I tell them I don’t have a favorite (what book nerd does?). Then, when they still won’t leave me alone, I spout off a handful of memorable titles. The Book Thief is always on the list. Always. And it should be on yours!  I promise, it’s a tale you’ll never forget.

Check out my full review here!

5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

6050678Barking spiders! You haven’t read the Leviathan series? Are you mad? What’s not to like? A round-the-world adventure? A would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne? A commoner girl disguised as a boy? Daring deeds? Fun? AMAZINGNESS!

Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!

…Hmmm, I think even I need to go read this–again. So much fun!

Check out more about Leviathan here!

6. Legend by Marie Lu

9275658Amongst all the dystopian books out there, Legend is my favorite. Think Les Miserables set in the future with a deadly virus, two badass protagonists, and lots of rip-roaring action.

In a nutshell, Legend is…

Read more about Legend here!

7. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

16101128Have you ever read a book as slow as possible? Because you’re dreading the end? Because you know when you turn that last page, the story will be over and you’ll be sad for days and days? Well, that’s how I felt while reading The 5th Wave. Although I’m not a huge fan of stories revolving around aliens, this one is both awesome and terrifying. It actually made me stop and think, “Oh crap. What if this actually happened?”

Dun, dun, dun…

I dare you to read it…Okay, forget the dare. I’m telling you to read it. Scoot, scoot.

Check out my full review here!

8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905Rainbow Rowell is officially one of my favorite authors of all time. In fact, I had a difficult time choosing which of her novels to recommend. The truth is, I recommend all of them (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park, and Attachments). Rowell is a master at character development and writing stories that have meaning and relevance. Trust me, you won’t be the same after experiencing one–or all–of her books.

Check out my full review for Fangirl here!

9. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

7171637Adventure. Wit. Tears. Mystery. Romance…The Infernal Devices has it all! This prequel series to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments is a MUST-READ! Especially if you’re looking for a new giddy book crush.

Oh, Will Herondale

“How rude. Many who have gazed upon me have compared it to gazing at the radiance of the sun.”

Jem still had his eyes closed. “If they mean that it gives you a headache, they aren’t wrong.”

Read more about The Infernal Devices here!

10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

1217100I could easily list thirteen reasons why you should read this book, but I’ll only give you one: it’s life changing. So read it!

Check out my full review here!

Okay, I have about a hundred more books/series I could list, but I’ll end things here. Just take my word for it, these are books you MUST read! You won’t regret it.

What about you? What books make your “How Have You NOT Read This” YA book list?

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Book Review: Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

14288998Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi 

Synopsis

“The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do–and they are just as determined to stay together.
Within the confines of a cave they’re using as a makeshift refuge, they struggle to reconcile their people, Dwellers and Outsiders, who are united only in their hatred of their desperate situation. Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. Then Roar arrives in a grief-stricken fury, endangering all with his need for revenge.
Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble an unlikely team for an impossible rescue mission. Cinder isn’t just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival–he’s also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most.
In this final book in her earth-shattering Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi raises the stakes to their absolute limit and brings her epic love story to an unforgettable close.”

Jen’s Review

Into the Still Blue was exactly what I wanted it to be: adventurous, romantic, suspenseful, addictive, surprising…Basically a perfect wrap up to a fantastic series!

Since this is the third and final book in the Under The Never Sky series, and since I despise spoilers, I’m going to keep this review short and sweet.

The characters were as likable and endearing as ever. The plot was tightly-woven, fast-paced, and plenty dramatic. The writing itself was crisp, smooth, and easy to follow. And the ending was–whoops! Not going there 😉 You’ll just have to read Into the Still Blue to find out for yourself how Veronica Rossi decided to conclude Aria and Perry’s tale.

I’ll just say this: If you enjoyed the first two books in the Under the Never Sky series, then you’ll definitely enjoy this one. And if you haven’t read any of the Under the Never Sky books yet, then I highly suggest you do, especially if you like dystopia and adventure.

Jen’s Rating

3 Star

Read more about Into the Still Blue here.

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Book Review: Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

13104080Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi 

Synopsis

“tick
tick
tick
tick
tick
it’s almost
time for war.
Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.
She’s finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.
Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.
In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam’s life.”

Jen’s Review

Overall, Unravel Me was fine okay good. Did I love it as much as Shatter Me? Unfortunately, no. Shatter Me was better. A lot better.

In the first book of the Shatter Me series, the protagonist, Juliette, was uncertain, fragile, and scared. And in this sequel, she was uncertain, fragile, and scared. And I’m betting she’ll be uncertain, fragile, and scared in the third book, Ignite Me.

Yeah, obviously I’d hoped wanted expected to see more character development with Juliette in Unravel Me. Her “I’m so scared and weak and useless” mindset quickly became frustrating. And what made it even more frustrating was in every chapter, she’d make some kind of vow to be “stronger” or “nicer” or “happier” after a pep talk/lecture from her friend, Kenji, or Omega Point’s leader, Castle…but then she’d encounter her boy toy, Adam, or she’d accidentally hurt someone, and she’d fall right back into her ol’ weepy, self-loathing ways. I hate to say it, but the only time I liked Juliette in this book was when she turned into that “monster” she feared. Then, she was cool insane badass.

On the plus side, I still worship praise adore Tahereh Mafi’s writing style. I can’t tell you how many times I’d re-read a sentence/paragraph for its sheer beauty or imagery. “My fists are full of unlucky pennies and my heart is a jukebox demanding a few nickels and my head is flipping quarters heads or tails heads or tails heads or tails heads or tails.” Mafi truly has a magical touch (no pun intended) with words.

I also loved many of her secondary characters, especially Kenji and Warner. Kenji is just plain fun. In fact, he’s probably my favorite character in this entire book. Strong, daring, hilarious. Kenji rocks. However, his many “Ugh, Juliette! Will you stop whining/crying/beating yourself up/making out with Adam?” moments highlighted Juliette’s many faults.

As for Warner…

…sigh

Unlike most, I fell in love with Warner in Shatter Me. I sensed there was more to him than lunacy cruelty bloodlust. And there was! In Unravel Me, we discover many of Warner’s humanistic emotionally scarred delicate layers. However, as much as I love love love Warner, I don’t love love love his involvement in the love triangle with Juliette and Adam. It’s too reminiscent of Bella, Edward, and Jacob…Okay, quick side rant: Juliette is blindingly beautiful. Adam is blindingly beautiful. Warner is blindingly beautiful. Everyone is blindingly beautiful in this book! Why? And why does that beauty overshadow more important qualities like personality? I just don’t like it when a protagonist has serious emotional/personality problems, yet she’s desired by all because she’s “hot”.

Well, anyways. I know it may not seem like it, but I did enjoy this book. Yes, it’s flawed, but yes, it’s good. And yes, I’d recommend it. And yes, I’m planning to read the third book in the series, Ignite Me. But, if you LOVED Shatter Me, all I can say about Unravel Me is:

Jen’s Rating

3 Star

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Book Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

13206828Cress by Marissa Meyer

Synopsis

Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard.
In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.
Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.
When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.”

Jen’s Review

Well, that about sums up my feelings for Cress. Yippy, ya-hoo, woo-hoo, yea, yeah, yes! Seriously, can Marissa Meyer write a bad book? I mean it. I thought Cinder was great, Scarlet was amazing, and now Cress? Wow! I’ve never read a series that gets better and better and better. Not only is the story itself evolving at a highly satisfying pace, but it’s building upon a cast of characters that are some of my favorite characters of all time!

I won’t lie, Scarlet and Wolf remain my favorites in The Lunar Chronicles (and I was a little bummed those two didn’t play a more prominent role in Cress). However, I absolutely loved the main duo in this book: Cress and Captain Thorne.

28791I can’t even begin to tell you how endearing and amusing Cress is. This Rapunzel inspired character was a perfect combination of sweet and naive, and edgy and brave. Half the time I wanted to laugh and shake my head at her daydreamin’, romantic fantasies, while the other half I wanted to give her a high five and thank her for not being a total damsel in distress.

A roar clawed up from her throat and she swung her elbow, as hard as she could, landing a solid hit against his jaw…She didn’t check to see if he was unconscious, or if she’d given him a heart attack, or if he was in any shape to get up and follow her. She wrenched open the door and ran.”

And then there’s Captain Thorne. (cue dippy sigh)

If you read Scarlet, then you’ve already been introduced to Captain Thorne. And if you didn’t fall in love with him then, I promise, you will in Cress. Through countless adventures and an unfortunate accident, Captain Thorne proves to be more than a charming, arrogant, self-centered fop. He shows us he’s also a genuine, patient, caring guy. And a man of his word.

I’m going to die. And I’ve never been kissed.”

Cress. Cress. You’re not going to die.”

We were going to have such a passionate romance, too, like in the dramas. But no–I’ll die alone, never kissed, not once.”

…”I promise, I will not let you die without being kissed.”

 Yeah…I think that calls for another dippy sigh, right gals? 😉

Really, everyone, I could go on and on and on about this book and the rest of The Lunar Chronicles. So, I’ll save my breath and simply urge you to go read it. Go read all of them. Now! Move it.

Jen’s Rating

4 Star

To read more about Cress, click here

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