Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell to 2012

I can't believe another year is over.

2012 was a big year for me. It was the first year ever that I haven't once stepped foot on New Zealand soil. It was the first year I'd ever lived overseas. It was the first year that I rarely saw my parents in person. It was also the year I decided to really make a go of writing a book. It was the year I added countless skills to my resume from working in New York City. 

It really has been a year of growth. My relationship with my mister grew significantly, and my relationship with myself changed - in a good way. I began to view the world differently, and I began to really be thankful for all the small things in life.

I met so many new people this year and had more adventures than I'd ever had in my lifetime. It flew by so fast. A year ago I was preparing to see in 2012 by partying at Dallas BBQ in Times Square, NYC. We feasted, we danced and we watched the ball come down at midnight. I really can't believe that was a whole year ago.

Now I'm nearing the end of my time in America. I get to ring in 2013 almost 24 hours after my friends and family in New Zealand do, but I get to do it in the awesome Californian atmosphere.

Who knows what the year ahead will hold. Hopefully some very exciting developments. Top of my list is to crack through that WIP that's been sitting gathering dust for the past few months, get a kick-ass job, spend some good quality time with my family and just enjoy New Zealand. I've developed a new found appreciation for my home country after being away for so long!

What are you plans for 2013? How are you seeing in the New Year?

Whatever you do tonight make sure you have fun, celebrate good friends and life, but most importantly, stay safe!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to all!

It's the most wonderful time of the year! At least that's what the song says!

Ever since I was a little I've loved Christmas time. As Christmas falls during summer in New Zealand, we would also be on our summer break so we would have November and January off to enjoy the season.

At the start of December I would put on the Disney Christmas Carols soundtrack that I have had since forever and my sister and I would decorate the tree. Dad would hang tinsel around the walls, the wreath would go on the door and the Christmas bears would sit under the tree. Slowly the base of the tree would fill with gifts and mum would start baking her delicious Christmas cake.

On Christmas eve my sister would sleep in my room and by 6am we were awake and excited about the day ahead. 'Santa' would have put a sign on the door to the lounge stating that we must not enter before 7am, so we would spend an hour absolutely bursting with excitement to open our presents.

The day would be a whirlwind. We'd open the gifts from Santa, our breakfast would consist of chocolate and by midday our extended family would have arrived. We'd have a big barbeque lunch, we'd play cricket or other similar sports in the sunshine and then we'd all open our presents from our extended families.

At night we'd sit outside, eating Christmas cake and watching the stars. We'd often watch the Christmas themed film on the TV or play with the goodies we'd received that day.

Last Christmas was our first time away from our families. As we're both very family oriented people, it was difficult, however we joined forces with 15 other Kiwi's in Manhattan and had a great time. I even made a Pavlova, a traditional New Zealand desert, which impressed all the other Kiwi's there - good score!

This Christmas it will just be the two of us. We will (hopefully) get our first ever white Christmas in Vancouver. We'll see the Christmas lights throughout the city, we'll bundle up in warm clothes like everyone in the Christmas movies always have to do and we'll find somewhere to have Christmas dinner. It will be hard and a little lonely without our families, but again, that's part of the big adventure. Plus, this year my family have surprised me with holding off their own Christmas until February when we're all together again and can celebrate the way we did once upon a time! Can't wait!

I hope you, wherever in the world you are, have an amazing Christmas or Hanukkah filled with family, friends and lots of laughter. Eat, drink and be merry!

Monday, December 17, 2012

I bawled the whole way through, and loved every minute

There are some books that stay with you long after you've read them. Of course, it'll depend on what kind of books you really love as to which ones stay with you, but I'm sure you can think of one or two that you've never quite managed to forget, or that you always say 'oh, I must read that book again'. I love stories that are true, honest, raw, and make you feel all sorts of emotions. 

The ones I'm thinking of are those that really make you think. They tug the heart strings, they make you laugh, they make you cry and you then want to go and recommend the book to everyone you know.

About a month ago I talked about non-fiction books that stick with you. Now I want to talk about fiction novels.

There's been a couple of these that I've read recently. One of which is Ape House, by Sara Gruen who wrote Water for Elephants. Water for Elephants is a great story, however I actually feel Ape House is slightly better. Maybe I'm a sucker for stories that include animals, or maybe it just really pulled me into the story, and wrapped me up in the world. I laughed and cried with the characters, I cheered them along and I got angry and the injustices. Once it finished I recommended it to my FH, to my parents and my friends. Many of them also tracked down the book and enjoyed it almost as much as I did!

Sometimes the story won't make a huge impression on you at the time, but later your mind keeps drifting back to the story. This happened with me when I read Still Alice. I think this story just resonated with me because so many people I know, or know of, including my grandmother suffer from Alzheimer's disease. This book is told from the perspective of Alice who begins to suffer from early onset Alzheimer's. It's really interesting seeing how her brain starts to fail on her, seeing how she thinks and how she begins to forget. It was also a little bit scary as the character of Alice had so much in common with my mother (profession, interests etc). While the book didn't particularly make me laugh or cry, it definitely stuck with me enough for my brain to continue drifting back to the book, six months after I read it.

Still Alice

The Kite Runner is one I'd love to read again, I've never forgotten the impact that book had on me. It was disturbing and heart wrenching and incredibly well written. As hard as it is to read, that is one novel I still recommend everyone to read.

The Kite Runner

The Lovely Bones is another I've read numerous times. It's heart breaking and upsetting and causes you to feel all sorts of emotions - happy, sad, angry, confused..... It's a brilliant book, and while the movie is great it doesn't compare to the book!

The Lovely Bones

I've talked before about The Tea Rose, that's another that I'm still raving about.... you can read my review of that here.
The Tea Rose

 And as cliche as it may be, My Sister's Keeper - a long time favourite with a twist that I never saw coming that completely broke my heart and left me crying for hours.

While well written fiction novels can have this affect that still makes you sad when you think of the story, they really can't compare to the non-fiction novels that have the same effect. Partly because you know the non-fiction novels are true, and that the person telling the story really went through, or witnessed, all this heartache and trauma. I planned talk about these books in this post, but some of these stories touched my heart so incredibly that I feel they deserve their own post.

So they're a few of mine.... what are the fiction books that have never left you?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Silent Tears (Kay Bratt)


Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage
Written by: Kay Bratt
Published by: Self-published
Date: July 3, 2008
Pages: 430

“An eye-opening account of life in China’s orphanages. Kay Bratt vividly details the conditions and realities faced by Chinese orphans in an easy-to-read manner that draws the reader in to the heart-wrenching moments she has experienced in her work to bring hope to these children.”—Dan Cruver, cofounder and director of Together for Adoption

When her family relocated to rural China in 2003, Kay Bratt was thrust into a new world, one where boys were considered more valuable than girls and poverty and the one-child policy had created an epidemic of abandoned infants. As a volunteer at a local orphanage, Bratt witnessed conditions that were unfathomable to a middle-class mother of two from South Carolina.
Based on Bratt’s diary of her four years working at the orphanage, Silent Tears offers a searing account of young lives rendered disposable. In the face of an implacable system, Bratt found ways to work within (and around) the rules to make a better future for the children, whom she came to love. Her story balances the sadness and struggles of life in the orphanage with moments of joy, optimism, faith, and victory. It is the story of hundreds of children—and one woman who never planned on becoming a hero but became one anyway.

Every now and then I like to mix up my reading list, which consists mostly of fiction, with a non-fiction book. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this one, but once I read the plot summary I decided I should add it to my list. It has since become one of my most recommended books of the year.

As it says in the plot above, Kay relocated to the harsh life of China with her family in 2003. While her husband went off to work, and their young daughter went off to school, Kay decided to volunteer at a local orphanage. It was like nothing you could ever imagine.

Now this book is not an easy read, especially as you are painfully aware that what you are reading is a true account of the conditions in China. It also made me want to head over to China and adopt all these children myself. It's heartbreaking and disturbing but also very uplifting to see Kay's determination to help these children.

I don't want to say too much about it so as to not spoil this book, but I will say that I feel this a very important book for us to read. It gives us insight into life in China. A life that is so very different than mine, and quite possibly yours.

The writing of the book isn't first class. It's not perfect, and the book is really a series of diary entries of her daily life which some may not enjoy, but she doesn't hold a lot back. She's very honest about her experiences, as painful as they may be and for me that over rode any questionable writing or lack of editing.

I'm going to give Silent Tears 5 stars. Simply because it touched me and really made me think about my own life, and how important it is to help others out who aren't as fortunate. I recommend this book to everyone.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Three pages isn't enough!

In the last year or so I've started actively reading the acknowledgements of a book. I didn't used to. I just wanted the story. However, seeing how important my friends and family are to my own process of writing a novel, I realise the acknowledgments are vital. 

In fact, sometimes it almost seems like the acknowledgements aren't enough. For example, one day I was speaking to my mother and she said something along the lines of "Oh I expect that to happen when you write your novel." I stopped dead and thought I must have misheard her, after all the Skype connection between New Zealand and New York is often pretty unreliable. It turned out that's exactly what she'd said. I was quite surprised and asked why she thought I would write a book. She said, you love reading, you've always loved writing and I wouldn't be surprised if that's what you do next.

She was right of course. Like mother's always know, she knew what my next step was before I did. In fact, I had always wanted to write a book, I just wasn't sure if I had it in me. Hearing my mother say that really gave me the confidence to step forward and begin. Even now as I write this, there are very few people I've told that I'm writing. I've told a few people I barely know which I seem to feel okay with, but in terms of who I speak to in my daily life I told my FH, my mum, my little sister, my older sister's husband, my roommate and one of my good friends who is the most avid reader and book critic I know.

Without my FH and my good friend, I would have been stuck before I even started. They're the ones I turn to if I can't make something flow, or find the right name for a character or a city, or if I can't quite figure out which direction my plot will head in, they're the ones I'll tell my ideas to to gauge reaction. The rest I simply told the plot to in order to see what they thought of the general idea. In fact, I only told my little sister because she was suspicious about the reason I was asking her for boys and girls names. She later told mum she was surprised at how much she liked my idea (pft, thanks little sis...!)

I'm no where near the publishing or even editing stage of my WIP, but it's nice to acknowledge the people who have stood by me and cheered me on from before day one! Sometimes, the acknowledgements just aren't enough.

Who are the people you want to shout out to, who have helped you with your writing or whatever it is you're passionate about?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Reviews: Divergent (Veronica Roth)

Written by: Veronica Roth
Published by: HarperCollins
Date: May 3, 2011
Pages: 496

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

At a loss for what to read next, I asked Amazon for some dystopian books. It pointed me in the direction of Divergent. I was late to the party. Insurgent (the sequel) had already been out for almost two months and the series had a dedicated fan following throughout the web. I decided to check it out and within a few hours I'd been pushed into a hermit-like state which didn't end until I had finished both novels.

The book is centered around sixteen year old Beatrice - or Tris, as she soon becomes known. After making one of the most important decisions in her life Tris finds her life thrown completely into turmoil as she navigates her way through her faction initiation, new friends, new enemies, and new romance. Then, of course, there rumblings of unrest and danger....

I really liked Tris. From the opening pages I felt in some ways I could relate to her. It soon becomes obvious she's a very complex character, very strong willed and feisty, yet also anxious and vulnerable. Her growth throughout the novel is awesome to watch and you're left wanting to be best friends with this crazy teen. Tris is backed up during the book by new friends Christine, Will and Al. While they may not all have the best intentions, they create a great dynamic within Tris' life. Tris becomes a reasonably strong protagonist – though the process of getting her to that point DID feel a little slow. But to be honest, I liked the fact she was weak, ‘stiff’ and undefined in the beginning; it allowed the audience to see her transformation.

Then there is Four. You couldn't possibly forget Four. He is the teacher of the new initiates of the faction Tris chooses. He puts them through their paces, watches over them, and does his best to intimidate them. He is oh so dreamy, oh so strong, dark and brooding, and yet behind the tough exterior you see there is a lot more to Four than you could possibly imagine - like his real name, why he is called Four, and where he originally came from. Four is brave, yet he has a strong moral compass so he is not needlessly reckless like some of the other instructors *cough ERIC cough*. He is not the type of character you will like from the moment you meet him. In fact, you might despise him just a little bit at the start. Give him a chance though, he's worth it.

I loved the world building of this novel. It really intrigued me and I wanted to know more about it. I wanted to go and experience this world and to understand how it got this way. I couldn't quite wrap my head around why (most) people managed to fit so neatly into only one faction of society in the first place, but I do like to take everything with an 'anything is possible approach'. This world is so different than our current society. We all hope to be honest, selfless, brave, peaceful and intelligent - but most of us aren't. At least not all the time. Can you imagine a world where you have to abide by one of those virtues every minute of your daily life? Your whole existence would be devoted to that one virtue. It's quite thought provoking, isn't it? That's why I love this world Veronica has created. It really makes you think about humanity and what we've become as a society.

The book does start off a little slow, but the pace soon takes off and you’re left feeling like you’re on a train that’s hurtling forward towards the finishing line. A few things that I didn't like about the book - I felt the true definition of ‘brave’ was hugely blurred (this was potentially intentional, but if it was that was unclear) and some of the characters felt extremely one dimensional to the point that you really didn’t care about them. I also didn't like how in one particular scene Tris talks about how she feels powerful when holding a gun. Wasn't a huge fan of that, but after reading the sequel it was possibly necessary.

In saying all this, I still found it to be a really great book and wasted no time in recommending it to all my friends. If you're not the type to pick a book to pieces and have the ability just to sit back and enjoy the story, I think it’s a really great read.

I should also mention the author, Veronica Roth, conceived the idea while she was still at College. She is 24 and already a bestselling author which is obviously a huge achievement. While the writer side of me is jealous that she’s totally and completely living my dream, I’m so happy for her and the success is completely deserved. The third book in the Divergent series comes out in Fall 2013, and I’m eagerly waiting its release!

So after all that I give Divergent 4.5 stars. It's not quite 5 stars but it's as close as you can get. It's one of my favourite books this year and I highly recommend it!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Are writers born or created?

I was over at a friend's place recently and out of the blue she questioned if good writing is something that is taught, is it something we pick up along the way or is something we're born with?

She put up quite a compelling argument which really got me thinking. People who can write, and write well, is this something they're specifically taught in English class? Or do they pick it up from their surroundings and the books they read? Or maybe, just maybe, they're born with it.

Just after I turned 21, I lectured for a while at a university. (I should point out I never once felt like I should be standing at the front of a classroom of lecture hall considering my students were generally only two years younger than me, or in some cases, quite a bit older than me.)

During my position at the university I had to mark hundreds of essays and exams. Okay, I wasn't teaching English or Creative Writing, but I was teaching papers that were in a similar field to English. Because of this you would think then that everyone who was in this particular degree should have been able to write. You know - paragraphs making sense, correct spelling and grammar and some coherency throughout the essays.

For some people, this was easy. Their essays were well presented and beautifully written, not only making sense but applying the research to their work in really creative and interesting ways. Those were the essays I loved marking. Those were the students who really took pride in their work and wanted to do well (even though I'm sure many of them had put in an overnighter before it was due just to meet the deadline.)

Other students, however, would 'drop the ball' on their second sentence of the first paragraph. Their topic sentence would be forgotten as soon as they'd finished it. For some, they would even lose track of what they were saying at the start of that very same sentence... so they'd carry off on a new tangent.

To be honest, I was really shocked. Every single one of those students would have studied English all through high school as a pre-req for getting into this degree in the first place. How could they have passed their exams, got into a course which had limited intake and still have no clue how to write a comprehensive essay?!

Anyway, let's look at the students who wrote me those glowing essays. As I mentioned, they were fantastic. However, I could still see a huge difference between the essays. There were those who knew the material and knew how to write, and then there were those who had learned how to write.

There is a difference here....

See those who knew the material and knew how to write wrote great essays. But they rarely used "big" words, their punctuation and grammar was all over the place and the formatting of their essays wasn't quite how it should be. Those who had been taught knew the rules. Their paragraphs were set out perfectly, their spelling, grammar and punctuation was correct, and the words they used not only looked great but sounded very intelligent.

I'm going to be honest here. When I started university, I was in the first category of those who could write. I studied very hard, I researched all the material I would need and I wrote the essays. I knew how to write, but I didn't particularly know any 'big words' and I wasn't always the best on grammar and punctuation. But I tried my best.

During my first year of university I took a few classes which helped me significantly improve. I took creative writing courses, essay formatting courses, and generic 'principles of writing' courses. My peers in these classes groaned - they weren't interested in learning the basics of the written word. Most of them were just taking the class to make up credit. Me, however, I loved it. In this class we had to write two short stories every week, in all different styles. We had to write practice essays and poems, film scripts and monologues. I was completely in my element.

The basic principles of writing I learned in those classes took me through the rest of my college years, through my undergrad and grad school classes, through my first jobs, through my magazine article publications and my resume cover letters to where I am now. I'm still not as good as I'd like to be. I'm still not the Queen of spelling and grammar. You won't read my blogs and find it particularly intellectually stimulating, and it's quite possible you may find something that doesn't make sense, or a sentence that is far too long. (Although don't confuse my British English for spelling errors!)

The reason I wanted to bring up this story is that I think there are two answers to my friend's initial question. People who write, and write well, are created both from nature and nurture. See, I believe in order to create a great work of fiction, you need to have the creativity, imagination, a way with words and a love of writing that, most likely, you are born with (or are encouraged in that direction as a child). Then you need to learn how to write, and write well, which is the nurture/taught side. This comes from being taught the correct spelling, grammar and techniques. Following that you need to combine both the skills you're born with and the ones you learn to put in an awful lot of hard work to create the best possible work of fiction.

I think if you only had hard work, OR creativity, OR the foundations for writing then it wouldn't work. You need all three, and if you're missing one then you need to be taught how to do that one in order to write the best pieces of work you possibly can.

But... that is just my opinion. I'm curious to know yours....

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Reviews: Hourglass (Myra McEntire)

Written by: Myra McEntire
Published by: Egmont USA
Date: June 14, 2011
Pages: 400

One hour to rewrite the past . . . 

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

I initially picked up this book because I had seen it mentioned on a few blogs in the cyberworld. Aside from that, I absolutely LOVED the cover. It's so mysterious and intriguing that I wanted to know how it connected to the story.

The story follows 17-year-old Emerson and is set in a small town just outside of Nashville, Tennessee (probably because the author, Myra McEntire, is from Nashville). Words can't express how much I loved the setting. The way the small town of Ivy Springs was described left me with a clear picture in my head of where the characters were living their lives. It was picture perfect. It truly left me with the image of my ideal small town.

One of the key spots throughout the book was the Emerson's best friend's grandmother's cafe, Murphy's Law. This particular cafe was described in such intricate detail I could imagine every nook and cranny. I had a conversation with the author recently on Twitter who told me about the town on which Ivy Springs is based. Naturally I Googled it. I was right; it is a stunning, picturesque little town which, as I thought, matched my idea of the perfect small town. Myra also drew my attention to the cafe on which Murphy's Law is based. Again, this was exactly as I imagined Murphy's Law -- except flipped, to which Myra said.... "You're freaking me out... because Murphy's Law is also flipped". Shazam! That must be some talent for her to write these places in such a way that I could visualise them exactly.

The lead character, 17-year-old Emerson, is quite simply, awesome. She's tiny and fiesty and despite going through a lot in the last few years, she's strong. However, she does have a lot of difficulty trusting people because of her ability, which she thinks of as more of a curse. This ability causes her to see people who aren't actually there... not quite ghosts, but not quite real people either. She's been institutionalized because of this 'ability' and has spent far too long on medication that turns her into a zombie-like shell. She has an awesome best friend, which I always like to see in a strong female protagonist, and she's incredibly independent.

Michael is the male love interest for Emerson who also happens to see things that aren't really there. He's incredibly good looking, charming and incredibly mysterious. He growls when he's frustrated, broods about as much as Edward Cullen, he's crazy over protective but he's kind-hearted and oh so dreamy! He's hiding something, and it seems like something big. Whatever he's hiding is the kind of thing that makes you want - no - NEED to turn the page to find out what happens next.

The other characters, Lily, Kaleb, Ava, Dune, Nate, Jack, and Cat, along with Emerson's older brother brother Thomas and his wife Dru, help to give the story substance and keep it moving. The thing that I like about the characters in this book is that they have depth. They're flawed, they have issues, they have good moments, and they have bad moments, and that's what I like to see in a novel. 

The plot itself is totally different than anything I've read recently, which is awesome. It's not really spoiling anything by saying that a big part of the story is time travel and how the lives of the characters in this book are affected so completely by time travel. It's very interesting to see the manner in which Myra has approached the time travel idea. It's very original and fresh and consequently made me really excited about this book. 

My only slight annoyance would be that at times the dialogue felt forced or didn't seem realistic. Other than that I totally loved this book. In fact, it's right up there in my top five books of the year.

So, I would give Hourglass 4.5 stars :) This is one I would definitely recommend checking out!


Monday, November 26, 2012

My word vomit writing style

I feel like I have 'The Word Vomit' disease. That is, the little issue I can't seem to get past whenever I'm writing.... well... anything. An email, a Facebook status, an essay.... a blog and most definitely a book I seem to just vomit up words out of my finger tips. That gives me a really gross visual - apologies - but you know what I mean, right?

Even when I feel like I don't have much to say I just start typing and before I know it there's all these words on the page. Consequently it makes editing a real mission.

My FH (meaning, current boyfriend who is pretending he doesn't pick up the hints that "if you like it then you should put a ring on it...") has a very different writing style than I do. When we were in college, all those years ago (okay it was only three years ago, but whatever), we took one paper which required a 15,000 word paper. That's not a lot of words. At all. Particularly when you have lots to say (or when you suffer from The Word Vomit disease). Anyway, I would word vomit all over the paper for weeks before the assignment was due. In this case I was actually working on it for two months. My dear FH picked up his laptop and books a week before the thing was due and delicately wrote out his essay. Now he edits as he goes. I would spill 30,000 words out and then go back and revise numerous times until it was under the word count and as refined as perfectly as possible. I would get so anxious walking past his screen at 2am (on the one occasion during my college career when I stayed up half the night working) and see he'd only achieved three paragraphs. If he worked the same way I did he would have probably finished his first draft already and would have moved on to editing.

I guess his way of writing essays was more productive than my unorganised mess. He ended up with an A+ for his 'less than a week long effort' and I was given an A- for all those hard hours of word vomit mania! I can't seem to let it go. ha!

The thing for me, is as I write, more ideas keep coming to me. I don't want to lose the thought so I just write it. It may not make sense, it may not fit in with the rest of the book, the whole vibe of the book may change completely or it may mean a character is doing something totally uncharacteristic.... but that's okay. At the end of the day I can look through my work and start the revising period (well, not at the end of the day, more like the end of the book). My word vomit will often help make my book better. Granted, it was probably not likely to sit too well with essays because I did tend to go off on a tangent ... much like I do in my blogs. But for my own novel, I feel it helps rather than hinders my writing.

Just my thought for the day. What do you think? Do you have the word vomit disease too, or is whatever you put on the page planned out from the beginning?

ps. I actually really hate the word vomit, but at the same time, I kind of like the way it sounds.

Friday, November 23, 2012

In my absence

I'm going to make the most of my 'absence' time by posting a whole bunch of reviews of books I've read in the last year. I should point out that I don't really read books the minute they come out, unless I'm specifically asked to. This means many of the books I'm reviewing aren't exactly new and chances are you have already read them, but hey, maybe my two cents will sway you to read [or not read] a certain book.

SO, reviews will be going up most Fridays starting from next week, be sure to let me know what you think :)

In the meantime, Happy Black Friday! Enjoy your shopping (or not shopping)! I'm going to be out battling the crowds for a decent camera and some kick-ass cowboy boots! Yeehaw!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I'm assuming that's what you say anyway?!

To be honest, I wouldn't know. In New Zealand, Thanksgiving is yet another event we don't celebrate. At all. There's no turkey and cranberry, there's no cold weather outside, there's no Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and there is no day off work!

Last Thanksgiving was my first experience of the holiday ever. My FH and I had arrived in NYC the day before after 28 hours of travel. We were severely jet lagged and barely knew a thing about the city. We were staying with a family who rented out homes in their townhouse, and they had invited us to celebrate a non-traditional potluck Thanksgiving dinner with them and the other tenants in his house, as well as a group of their friends.

We had woken up crazy early and headed to Bryant Park where we had an amazing view of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and then we explored Times Square for the first time. I spent too much money at Dylan's Candy Store and M&M World, I paid some guy in a Mickey Mouse suit $1 to take a photo with me, and I fell in love with the atmosphere at the Bryant Park holiday shops.

We had a cheap and nasty (but really delicious) lunch at a gluten free pizza place on 23rd Street and we walked everywhere because we were too terrified to tackle the subway yet.

This year we're spending most of the day on a bus traveling through Tennessee. We'll arrive in our destination mid-afternoon with enough time to find somewhere that may just be open for two travelers on Thanksgiving night. I'm determined to find some turkey somewhere!

Next year I'll be back in my hometown and the day will pass without most Kiwi's giving it much thought.  They'll be probably too busy enjoying the start of summer and the New Zealand barbeque season to remember the American holiday. But I will try to remember. I'll try and have some turkey and cranberry sauce on the day, and will pretend it's cold outside while I reminisce about my life in America.

Whatever it is you're doing, where ever you are in the world, I hope you have a lovely American Thanksgiving.... or just a lovely 22nd of November :) Enjoy being with your friends and family, be thankful for what you have, and tell those you love how much they mean to you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Everyone deserves a chance to fly"

I have a confession to make. I'm cheating. My posts from here on out have actually been written a while ago. I'm sitting here writing this in October. I learned how to schedule posts a little while ago, and it's quite handy actually! By the time this post goes live I will have just started my 'Great American Road Trip'.

I've mentioned it briefly before but probably not specifically in detail. In November 2011 I came to America  from New Zealand to work for one year on a J1 work visa. I made the decision in mid-September, and two months later my FH and I had sold all our belongings, moved out of our home and were New York bound.

The last year has been a crazy whirlwind of experiencing life in New York, traveling up and down the East Coast, from Daytona Beach and Orlando in Florida, to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Niagara Falls, Toronto and Montreal. We went to so many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows I lost count after five months. We had lots of time to explore the galleries, museums, markets and open spaces in the city and we immersed ourselves in the crazy life of the big city. It was a big change from our quiet, somewhat boring life back in New Zealand!

Now, for our time on the road, we're traveling for two months straight (a mission that will most definitely leave us broke and exhausted) across the United States. We're visiting 18 cities - St Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, Montgomery, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Denver, Vegas, San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle, Long Beach, Anaheim (yaya Disneyland), San Diego and then finally LA.

We return back to New Zealand in late January for, at this stage, a year, during which time we'll save as much money as possible and focus on our individual projects. I'll get stuck into finally working solidly on my WIP and my FH plans to make a short film he can try and enter into festivals. I'd also love to learn French!
Following our year back in New Zealand, we have plans to go through Africa for five weeks, check out Egypt and the South of Turkey, stop through Dubai and then move to London. In the long run, London will give us a good chance to travel through Europe on weekends and holidays.

The reason I'm writing all this isn't to inform you of my life plans (well it partly is), but it's more about talking about travel. When I think about this trip I'm about to embark on, I have to admit, I'm a little scared. It's really taking a leap into the unknown. After trips that we've taken for just one week, we've been exhausted, so by the time you read this chances are we'll already be dead on our feet, and we're not even half way through. So that makes me think, why do I do it? Why do I push myself to the limits to do these full on trips to visit new places.

The answer is so easy. The experience outweighs any possible negatives. I've always been a bit of a traveler, and in New Zealand, a right of passage for young New Zealanders is to 'fly the coop' and to experience the world. When I moved to New York I didn't realise quite how much I would get out of the experience. It's made me discover what I like and don't like, it's made me find some dreams, and realise that others weren't really my dreams to begin with, it's made me learn more about myself, discover other cultures, learn about the history of America (which we weren't really taught in New Zealand) and find a true sense of freedom. "The world is your oyster" is not just a corny phrase used to tell someone they can do whatever they want, but when you're traveling, it's so true. There is a huge world out there to explore and not getting out there to check it out means you end up missing out on so much.

I've met a lot of people in America who always say "oh yeah, I've always wanted to go to New Zealand". I say, "well, why don't you?" The excuses vary dramatically but I think they're important to dissect a little.
  • "It's too far" - well yes, that's true, but sometimes that hardest places to get to hold the most beautiful gems. I get that it's a long way, trust me, I get it. But why is that an excuse for missing it completely? If you really want to go there, make the plans to go. Use that vacation time and take three weeks to go and explore somewhere so completely different than your hometown.
  • "I can't afford it" - Save those pennies. It's not easy but ... take for example my sister, who came to visit me last week. She decided back in January to come and visit me in New York for a week and to stop for a week in LA. She is at full time dance school and worked three nights a week in a restaurant in Australia. She managed to save more than enough money to come over here and splurge as much as you could possibly splurge while she was here. We went to Broadway shows every night, we ate at fancy restaurants, we took cabs, and she needed to buy an extra suitcase to get everything she'd purchased over here back home. You can travel on the cheap too - we are! We managed to get right across the USA (transport wise) for $800 each. That's 6 flights and 13 bus trips - not too bad!
  • "What about my job?" - this is the most common one. I met an American the other day who had lived in Australia for a year. She said most of her friends will never leave because everyone is in the mindset that you must go to elementary school then on to middle school and high school and college then straight from college into your internships and jobs.... Then there's no time to travel. Maybe once you retire, you say. Does it happen? 90% of the time, no. and the ten percent that do? I used to work at a tourist attraction in New Zealand when I was a teenager. Many of the retirees (from all over the world) who came through were loving New Zealand. Unfortunately they couldn't make the most of this particularly attraction because a) they were over the age limit of 65 or b) they weren't physically capable which literally meant they were too old to have the agility of the younger tourists who would come through and get a truly amazing experience. I met a couple over here in New York who my FH and I became quite good friends with. They were so desperate to travel. You could see it in their eyes and how they spoke of the experience. It really made me sad to hear they had just recently graduated but really couldn't quit their jobs as they needed to advance up the company. I suggested to them to take a working year in New Zealand or Australia... or somewhere else in the world where they could experience a totally different way of life, then they'd still be working so money wouldn't be an issue, they'd have an extra tidbit on their resume and they'd get an amazing life experience. They really weren't interested even though right after graduation, in my opinion, is a great time to travel, before you're really tied down to a job, while you're still young.
The purpose of this massive long rant (I have said in the past that I'm good at word vomit/long spiels!) is to encourage you all to get out there and see the world. It gives you an entirely new perspective on life, it provides you with so much inspiration for your writing and you get to know the world and the incredible people that populate it. The world is like an art gallery with so many stunning"works of art" to explore.

If crossing the oceans is too much to think about, explore your own country! Check out what the rest of your state or area has to offer, visit a small town near your own which you've never visited before, or go to a nearby (or far away) city. You may find you make the best memories while you're there. So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and explore... enjoy it!

Have you traveled? Where are your favourite places to travel to or go on vacation?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Road Reading

I mention road reading a lot, so I just wanted to show you exactly what I mean.
I managed to capture my man walking along a New York street the other day totally engrossed in A Dance With Dragons.

So - road reading - walking along the street, head buried in your book (or kindle) and only slightly watching where you're going.

Dangers - stepping in dog poop or vomit or anything else you could imagine is covering the sidewalk and walking into traffic.... you must be very careful with this.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sandy Hates Books

Two days before the hurricane hit New York City I walked around the DUMBO area of Brooklyn. I walked past the Powerhouse Arena bookshop. Inside there was a group of people having a Halloween party. The books were positioned all over the shelves looking shiny and new, and the people inside were having a great time eating snacks and drinking champagne.

Two days later, the entire DUMBO neighbourhood was underwater. The beautifully restored carousel I love so much which sits on the banks of the East River was left unable to be used after the mechanics were destroyed by sea water, and as water poured into the Powerhouse Arena, many books became causalities of Sandy.

Two weeks to the day after I was last there I walked past the Powerhouse Area once again, on my way to take pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge (which I couldn't do, power is still out in the park so the whole area is closed down at night). As I walked past the shop I noticed a number of garbage bags sitting on the sidewalk. On closer inspection I realised they were filled with water logged books.

It made me so sad to see all these books which had to be thrown out after the storm, and as we're a reading and writing community, I just wanted to share these pictures with you. The shop lost hundreds of books, their computer system, their security system and the water even broke the door.

Despite putting the books up high off the ground on the Sunday before the storm, the water levels were much high than they ever imagined. What's worse is they don't have flood insurance. The shop is having a fundraiser  THIS SATURDAY in NYC to help recover after the hurricane. It's a day of reading, refreshments, book signings and book browsing (See last photo). As well as that, if anyone wanted to make a donation or anything I'm sure they'd be very appreciative. 

It's so sad, and I really feel for the owner of the store. Please watch the video I've embedded at the end of this post which shows just how badly the store was hit.

Here's a video of them cleaning up after Sandy

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

RTW: Our Inspiration

Another Wednesday, another Road Trip! Road Trip Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by YA Highway!

This week we're all sharing our most inspiring and/or motivational video, book, or quote on writing!

When I was 11 I collected motivational quotes. I'm not entirely sure why, I just loved them so much. I had folders and books full of the things. Not all of them stuck with me, but there is one in particular that I've never forgotten. It's not specifically about writing, but in general I think it's a great approach to life.

"Always aim for the Moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

Of course there are a number of variations of this particular quote but I love it so much. I feel it can certainly be applied to writing, and any other aspect of your life. In general I use them as words to live by. 

To me, this quote is saying to aim as high as possible, always believe you can achieve, and never think any dream is too small. To that end I've always never thought of dreams as merely dreams, I think of them more as something that can be obtained if I work hard enough. Of course it's not always easy, not at all, but if you want something bad enough I believe you can get it. 

The other quote I really love, which can be applied to writing or again, life in general, is by the amazing Dr Seuss. 

'Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.'

It's true! Those who matter don't mind!

As for videos... again, they don't necessarily motivate or inspire me in terms of writing, but more in terms of life which consequently motivates and inspires my writing. The best place for inspirational videos is, of course, YouTube. You can find some real gems in there. 

There are heaps that I love, so I can't add them all here so I'm just going to show you one of my favourites.

This boy is such an inspiration. If he can build a windmill, I can ... write a book, climb a mountain, get a new job etc etc. This guy goes to show that if you want something, and you work at it, you can make miracles!

In terms of inspirational books, I talked recently about some non-fiction books that really inspire me.

Elissa Wall's story, document in A Stolen Innocence and Kay Bratt's story from Stolen Tears, inspired me to stand up for those who don't have a voice in this world. It motivated me to get out there and learn about other cultures and to do something worthwhile with my life. They're both brilliant books, I highly recommend them!

So they're mine! What are yours?

Monday, November 12, 2012

I am tired.

I'm sitting here trying to write. It's not working. I think the extend of my abilities at the moment are fighting the urge to keep my eyes from shutting and writing a blog post that isn't particularly witty or smart.

I'm very tired. I've watched my self-set bedtime slip later and later into the night. I've always been one to do my best work in the mornings and sleep soundly at night. I'm probably an abnormality here. Most people I know are night owls and work best during the hours of darkness. I wish I was one. Instead if I don't get enough sleep (and we're talking 7+ hours) then I am a zombie. A serious zombie who walks around with semi-glazed eyes all day while being extremely unproductive. Sad really.

I used to write essays for college when I was this tired. I'd think they were great, then I'd send them to my mum who would read it and tell me if it made sense before I'd turn it in. The essays that were written when I was tired were always sent back to me with the note "I feel like you wrote this while half asleep. It doesn't make sense. In fact it feels like you're combining two entirely different topics into this one essay. I suggest you redo". I would pout for a while and then with a fresh brain which had been given plenty of rest I would redo.

My roommate described this to me really well the other day. She said it's like being a flower. When I've had plenty of sleep, I'm alive and happy swaying in the sun. When I'm tired I start to droop until I'm 'watered' with sleep.

It really means when my brain feels like marshmallow I can't write a thing. Which is a real annoyance when I'm trying to write more than one sentence which makes no sense. What do you do in these circumstances? Do you have a way to kick start your brain or do you conclude there is no way to fix the situation except to sleep and try again tomorrow?

Note: Apologies if this is a load of nonsensical dribble. It tends to happen when I'm tired. In fact, chances are I won't even remember writing this post later.....!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Reading habits

Before I moved to New York, I didn't read as much as I wanted. I'd go through a couple of books a year, I'd read now and then before bed, and if I was traveling to my hometown (90 minute plane ride each way) I'd take a book along and read as much as I could.

Consequently I didn't get many books read. That all changed when I moved to America. My first apartment was out in Newark and it would take me around an hour each way to get to work. There was just so much time sitting on trains that I was suddenly reading for two hours every day. I had bought a few books over to America with me, but within the first week in our new apartment I'd finished them all. I had a lot of difficulty joining the New York public library because of my Newark, NJ address, and I didn't particularly like the library selection at Newark public library.

Once I did join the NYPL I found the book loaning system very strange. I couldn't quite figure out exactly how it worked and it kind of made me nervous! It was one of those little American differences that I couldn't quite get around.

I asked a few people I knew if they had any books I could borrow, and while they lent me some interesting looking stories, none of them were really my genre or really captured my attention. Not only that, but these books were big and heavy.

So, naturally, I bought a Kindle. It changed my life. I could carry my Kindle with me everywhere and the amount of books I read increased dramatically. Once I moved out of Newark and moved closer to the city the amount of time I had to read decreased somewhat, so my reading pace has slowed a little, but I'm still chewing through books as quickly as I can.

What I'm wondering though, is what your reading habits are. When I'm on the train and absorbed in my book I'm in good company. In other places though, I seem to be the only one reading. Maybe I'm just a bookworm, but I'm sure I can't be alone. Once I get off the train, I can't just put my book away, at least not until I finish the chapter, so I road read. A lot of people don't understand this term. I borrowed it from The Sky Is Everywhere (which is a pretty good book y'all should read). Basically it's just walking along the road and reading. Not always safe in NYC if you forget that you have to stop for traffic. I've only ever seen one other person do it for half a block after emerging from the subway. Aside from me and my FH who got the idea from me and only did it while he was absorbed in The Game of Thrones books.

Aside from road reading, I'll occasionally read while on the cardio machines at the gym, while i'm waiting in a line for the restrooms (most commonly) or any other occasion that finds me in a long line, while I'm waiting for the train, at the laundromat or sometimes while I'm waiting for my food to arrive at a cafe or super casual restaurant. I carry my Kindle with me, where ever I go, just in case something comes up that leaves me bored for more than 2 minutes and needing something to do.

Am I alone in this? Does anyone else carry a book or e-reader with them for those lulls in the day, or read in strange places to pass the time.... or simply because they can't put the book down. I'd love to know....!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

RTW: Best Book of October

Roadtrip Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by YA Highway.

This week we're talking about the Best Book of October

Unfortunately I don't have one. I haven't been reading as many books lately because I'm STILL going on the Pretty Little Liars series. I'm up to the last book that's been published... so that's been taking up all my  reading time.

I did however read two other books during the month of October - unfortunately I didn't like either of them.

The first was The Clan of the Cave Bear. I know, I should have liked it because it's a classic and whatnot but I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it was the writing style or the way the story was told.... I can't put my finger on what I didn't like exactly...

I wanted to like it, and I wish I'd liked it. In fact I was determined to finish it so I actually skim read most of the chapters and read the last five with full concentration. To be fair, the concept of the book I really liked, and the story was really intriguing but it just wasn't my kind of book.

The other book I read was Titanic 2012. I don't even know what to say about this book other than that I thought it was terrible. For one, I found it really disrespected the lives of those lost in the sinking but suggesting it was an ancient curse that possessed people on the ship to cause the sinking in the first place. Then, there were many historical facts that the author got wrong. Half the book is set in 1912 and the other half in 2012. Both time periods see's people on both the Titanic, and a Titanic exploration ship that are trying to stop the curse from wrecking havoc. This book is the only book this year that I've put down and walked away from.

Clearly I'm in need of some recs. Anyone got anything good?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Favourite Part

In the last week I spend 33 hours traveling. On four buses and a train. I don't know what was worse. Two buses were night buses, and anyone who has ridden a night bus before knows how horrible it is to try and sleep in a bus overnight. Unless you can fall asleep at the click of your fingers (I used to have this talent, I'm not sure where it's disappeared to...) then you arrive at your destination looking like you've walked off the set of The Walking Dead.

During some of these long trips I was sorting out my kindle. In two weeks I'm going to be embarking on a two month road trip across the United States before I move back to New Zealand. While I'm hugely excited about this trip I also know it's going to involve many, many hours of bus rides (unfortunately it's the cheapest, and most uncomfortable, way to travel). My kindle will be my best friend (not that it wasn't already).

And just slightly off topic here, I know some of you are very anti kindle, but I must stress, for me they don't replace books. I still love getting the hardcopy books, being able to flick through the pages, pour over the cover, easily flick back and forth.... but it was becoming difficult to lug heavy books with me along with my laptop, gym gear, lunch and other daily essentials on the train for an hour each way to and from work. I got a kindle for my birthday and now it goes everywhere with me. It's so lightweight and slim it hardly takes up any room, and it's meant I've started reading so much more than I used to. I've even convinced my FH to buy one which he's quite excited about.

So anyway, I was organising my collections in my kindle for hours, shuffling books around, making new 'collections' and new lists of what I want to read next when I started thinking about the whole 'book reading process'.

I was trying to figure out which part of reading a book is my favourite part.  It could be the beginning when you have the whole book full of adventure to look forward to; the middle where you're wanting to know what happens next and can't quite put the book down but you've got plenty of the book left to look forward to; the climax, when you won't let anyone talk to you because you must...keep....reading!; or just after the conflict has been resolved and the book is wrapping up, when you know you're finishing this adventure and you're almost ready to pick your next book.

I asked my FH what his favourite part is, and he said "half way through when you know there's no turning back, when it's pulled you in and you have to finish the book to know how the story ends." I do love that part too, but I'm not sure if that's my favourite part, my favourite is at the climax near the end, when the tension is so high and your head has gone all buzzy and you can't think of anything else but what is going to happen in the book. There's also the knowledge that the book is coming to and end soon and you're going to get to pick out your next book soon.

So what is your favourite part of the reading process? Is there a time when your favourite part lets you down? Perhaps it's when it's not enough of a page turner, or when the book drags, or when it doesn't quite give you the satisfaction you were looking for.... thoughts?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Non-Fiction Books that stay close to your heart

I want to talk a little bit about reading books that leave their footprint on you (so to speak). By this I mean books that have really have affected me in some way. The story has, in some way, made an impact to the point that I haven't easily been able to forget it.

This happens a lot with novels, which i'll talk about in the next few weeks, but there are a collection of other books I've read recently that have had a similar impact on me, but they're all non-fiction stories. That possibly makes them even more memorable.

The first that I read was several years ago. It's Torey Hayden's first book called One Child. Torey Hayden is a behaviour psychologist who has written a number of books about her experience helped traumatized and disturbed children. This book is about her experience with her first seriously mentally tortured child. Parts of the book - mostly those bits where you find out what has happened to the young girl, Sheila - are so horrible you'll be in tears and enraged at the same time. Other parts will turn you into the biggest preppiest cheerleader in the history of cheer as your root Sheila on. I've read a few more of Hayden's books, but this is definitely the most touching and incredible of all of her books.

One Child 
Silent Tears is one that I'm recommending to everyone at the moment. It's basically a diary a woman kept during the years she lived in China volunteering at a Chinese orphanage. I can't get my head around the fact that this not only happened in my lifetime but just in the last few years. The conditions in these orphanages broke my heart. I wanted to adopt all of these poor children, many of them girls who were abandoned so couples could have more babies until they got boys because of the one child rule. Shocking. The book also talks about women being left by their husbands when they fail to give birth to a boy. I just can't even get my head around it. It is so barbaric, but then again, I don't fully understand the ways of their culture and no matter how hard I try, I don't think I ever will unless I go and live in China.


The woman who wrote this book really advocated for these kids. She worked so hard to try and encourage more American families (and others from around the world) to adopt these kids if they were looking to adopt. She helped raise money to get surgeries for the many kids with deformities, and she grew particularly attached to a number of the kids. This is a hard read, but it's a must read and I will never forget the things I took from this book.

Another book set in China that made a profound impact on me was Mao's Last Dancer. I'm sure many of you will have read this or seen the movie. It's a fantastic book which sends you on a total emotional journey. I learned a lot about China in this book, much of which really shocked me, but the journey of Li is a really incredible one, and to see how far he's come and to where he is now is astounding.


The final book that's really wormed its way into my head is Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall.
I started reading this book in New Zealand and was reading it as I flew to the USA, so I had no knowledge of Elissa's story or of Warren Jeffs but after this book I had a great deal of knowledge about it. This is basically the story of Elissa, an incredibly strong and brave young woman who grew up in the FDLS. She knew nothing of the 'outside world', and even after being forced to marry her first cousin (among other things), she still was fearful of what was outside the church. It's a heartbreaking and very powerful story which actually made such an impact that I reached out to Elissa to tell her how incredibly brave she is.

This book really helped me understand the life of those in cult religions such as the FDLS and to really comprehend why it is so hard for those that want to get out, to actually get out. It's an amazing story though, and also another I really recommend.

What are some non-fiction books that have really stuck with you that you can't help but recommend to everyone?