Can’t stop thinking about #PitchWars

I haven’t been able to concentrate on much since hitting submit on my PitchWars entry. There’s been work to distract me, and the Olympics have helped a bit. I love getting to watch swimming on TV because I’m a swimmer. Swimming only gets this kind of love and National attention for about a week every four years. This year, it feels like the USA swimmers are getting even more love than usual. It’s fantastic. But it’s still not keeping my mind off PitchWars.

I’ve probably started about 3 books and 2 movies since hitting submit, but I keep stopping halfway through, worried that there is something more I should be doing. But at this point it’s completely out of my hands. I just have to be patient and wait. I also need to trust all the work I put into this novel.

Just for fun, and in the interest of documenting my process, I suppose I could tell you a little about all that work. You see, by day, I’m a program manager, which is just a kinda fancy name for a project manager who manages a lot of projects—usually similar ones that can be grouped together and called a program. In my case, that program is called “Inventory Management” (I know, unless you’re a supply chain geek, that probably sounds incredibly dull, but a girl’s gotta pay the bills…). But, I mention this only to note that project planning is VERY IMPORTANT and it’s something I’m good at. So, when it came time to prep for this year’s PitchWars contest, I put those skills to use.

I also entered this contest last year. And, after the PW mentees were announced, I was disappointed (but not terribly surprised) that I didn’t make the cut. I nursed my wounded ego with my new “Pitch Pals” — an absolutely amazing group of new writing friends I met during the contest that have been (and continue to be) a source of support, inspiration, and excellent critique partner feedback. Then, I started to dream of 2016. At first, I had only a vague goal: Get in to PitchWars 2016 if I didn’t already have an agent by then. (This “already have an agent” thing was a bit of fanciful dreaming on my part because, at the time, I hadn’t even started querying yet. I was such a naive little beginning writer…. Sigh.)

But goals are key. I love goals. They focus me. Goals give me superpowers. Once I have a goal, I know what I need to do and I just start making things happen. After voicing my vague goal, I knew that the first thing I had to do was make it more specific if I wanted to have any chance at succeeding. That’s when I put my project management skills to work.

First, marked the date of this year’s contest on my calendar: August 2016.

Then, I made a list of what needed to be done by then. I knew I would need three things: a finished and polished MS (duh), a query, and a synopsis. (In project manager speak, we call these the “deliverables.”) All these deliverables needed to be written, edited, revised, critiqued, and polished some more before they would be ready to go.

Working backwards from the PW entry window, I knew I wanted to have everything done and ready to go at least a month before the entry date. I planned it this way for two reasons. First, as any experienced project manager will tell you, everything takes longer than you think it will. So, I wanted some “buffer time” in my plan. Second, my goal was to get in, and, if I got in, I didn’t want to be completely sick of my MS before the mentoring period even got started. I wanted that month off (almost two months, really, if you count the mentor selection time) to relax, read other books, stalk twitter, and generally recharge and refill my creative brain so I would be ready to go if I was selected.

So, I set my deadline. I wanted to have everything complete by the end of June 2016. Next, I started estimating what steps I’d need to complete each and about how long each step would take me. Then I made myself a schedule.

I’ll use the MS as an example. I already knew that I wanted to enter with a *new* MS because, in addition to prepping for PitchWars 2016, I wanted to revise my unsuccessful 2015 entry and start querying it. My plan was to write the first draft of my new novel during NaNoWriMo 2015. I know, (from previous experience) that I can write 50k words in a month, but the novel isn’t done at 50k. This meant that I’d need more than November to finish my new novel. I also knew that after a month of averaging 1700 words per day, I’m spent. Between NaNoWriMo, the holidays, travel, and family time, I needed to factor in taking most of December off. Giving myself a lot of buffer, I targeted completion of the first draft by end of January 2016. Then I penciled in time for beta readers and revisions (about two months). I also really wanted to get a professional MS critique. So, I planned to do that in the spring (April). That would leave me two months for final revisions (May and June).

I decided that I would work on the other deliverables during the downtime I had in my MS schedule. As an example, while beta readers and CPs were reading my MS (in February and March), I could work on the query and the synopsis. Then I could get feedback on those and revise while I was waiting for my MS critique.

Of course, nothing ever goes as planned. Many factors had me constantly revising my schedule. But, the biggest disrupter also happened to be an amazing opportunity. I entered my revised 2015 PW novel into P2P16, and I got in! I still find it hard to believe, and I am SO very very grateful for that experience. Participating in P2P16 meant that for several months my entire focus shifted from my shiney new MS back to the MS I’d thought I was ready to query.

Another factor that messed with my schedule in a big way was one of the things I learned during P2P16. I thought I knew what “revision” meant, but during P2P16 I began to realize that I’d previously only scratched the surface. I learned an entirely new level of scrubbing and polishing my entire MS, and especially my query and first chapter.

I also learned that beginnings are not my strong suit. I’m great at plot and world-building. But my beginnings always need a TON of work. I don’t necessarily suffer from the “starting in the wrong place” problem. Instead, I have a tendency to “write my way into” a story. The result is that, left untouched, I have this murky scene in the beginning that may technically be the right place to start, but definitely is not using the right words. It’s unfocused and rambley and suffers from a lot of filtering because I haven’t really got into my characters’ heads yet.

I know this about me now. Unfortunately, I definitely didn’t realize this when I made my original project plan. In my PitchWars 2016 project plan, I totally didn’t leave enough time for polishing my first chapter and query. And, with the time crunch from the P2P revisions, I’d already used up most of my buffer.

I ran into another problem after I sent my precious baby novel off to get professional feedback (miraculously on schedule, in April). I received some extremely insightful and extraordinarily helpful notes (thanks, Naomi!). There were several suggestions I wanted to work on in revisions, but the most important thing was developing my heroine’s character arc. The only problem was, I found myself massively stuck on how to do that. I needed time just to digest the feedback and figure out how to implement it, and I definitely hadn’t worked that into my schedule.

So, what do you do when your plan falls off track? You re-prioritize your deliverables and you look for ways to crunch your schedule. For me, that meant not stressing too much about my query and synopsis in favor of fixing my heroine’s character arc (to the best of my ability) and polishing the crap out of my first chapter.

The bottom line is, I learned a TON over the course of the past year. Even if I don’t make the cut this year, I’m feeling good about my revisions, my writing community, and the skills I’ve gained while working toward this goal.

I love this story. I’ve done everything I can to make it as good as I’m able to at this moment. Now I’m hoping a mentor will take a chance on me and help me take my novel baby to the next level.

But know this: even if I don’t get in, I won’t give up. I’ll take whatever feedback I get and make one more round of revisions. Then I’ll start querying and create my project plan for next year’s PitchWars. And, based on what I learned this year, my next novel project plan is going to include a LOT more time for revisions.

I have 2 more weeks until mentees are announced. Please cross your fingers for me and think good thoughts, etc. And, if you also entered PitchWars, come say hi on Twitter. I love making new writing friends and want to cheer for you.

July in Review

So, my “make July awesome” plan worked. Partly, this was due to a last minute change of travel plans. To quote Ferris Bueller’s famous words of wisdom: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you might miss it.” These words of wisdom took on even more meaning due to a death in my extended family. Nothing like a little mortality in your face to remind you to get out there and live.

But, enough deep thoughts from me. What you really want to know is what I read in July, right? (links take you to my reviews on Goodreads)

July2016

  • Storm Vol. 2: Bring the Thunder by by Greg Pak and Victor Ibañez (trade paper) — Enjoyable second volume. Storm is pretty freaking awesome. I kinda wish there were more in this series.
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Kindle, library) — Took me forever to get around to reading this second book in the series, but once I started I couldn’t put it down. And, of course there is a cliff-hanger ending. So, now I need to go get the next one off my digital holds at the library.
  • Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur by Cara Alwill Leyba (Kindle) — Not my usual read, but it came highly recommended and it sounded like it contained some useful advice. It definitely delivered on the promise of the subtitle, and had the added bonus of reading like a pep talk from a (much more stylish) girlfriend.
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Kindle) — I really liked this little novella. I loved the concept (boarding school for children who’ve returned from magical worlds and wish they could return). I love the way they’ve created a sort of “map” of the various magical worlds these children disappeared to (logical vs. nonsensical, good vs. evil, etc.). And I really enjoyed the mystery that drove the plot.
  • Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn (Kindle) — I pre-ordered this one based off an early sneak-peek (maybe this one?). As expected, I definitely enjoyed it. It’s a really fun and really cute book. The romance was well done and the characters were all fully fleshed out and engaging. I felt like the mystery that drove the plot wasn’t executed as well as I’d like, but it worked, even if the double-ending ending was a little less than satisfying.
  • The Unleashing by Shelly Laurenston (Kindle) — If I had to sum this one up in three words, I’d say: Vikings, sisterhood, and rescue-mutts. So, if you like those things (plus romance), you’ll probably like this book. The characters, world-building, and romance are all very well done. I really enjoyed the first ~75%, but I had some issues with the plot development of the final ~25%. I still really enjoyed it. I was just a little annoyed by some distracting sub-plots that didn’t really add anything to the main plot and would have preferred more focus on the main mystery, or at least to have the sub-plots tie in to the main plot better.

My current plan for August is that it will be more of a reading month than a writing month. But, I’m resisting the urge to adding a ton of books to my August TBR right now. Instead, I plan to leave things open and read exactly whatever I feel like reading.

Here’s what I’ve got on my August TBR:

August2016TBR

Most of these are carry-overs from last month’s TBR or books that I’m currently reading but haven’t finished yet… I decided to leave my hardcovers and paperbacks at home when I traveled. So, I never got to finish Homegoing, and never started School for Good and Evil. Instead, I started The Iron King while I was traveling, but I didn’t get the chance to finish it.

I’ve been really looking forward to diving into This Savage Song, but I decided to save for after I submit my novel to PitchWars this week. And Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is back on the list because I saw a review on Booktube that reminded me how much I want to read this book.

I think Artemis Fowl is the only new addition to this list. I bought this when we stopped at Literatti in Michigan because I couldn’t go in without buying a book, and I had to limit myself to just one so that it would fit in my luggage on the way home. The booksellers recommended this to me when I told them I was looking for a gift for a middle-grade reader. But, it seems to get mixed reviews on Goodreads. So, I think I might read it first, just to make sure.

If you’ve read any of these and have thoughts, or want to share what you’re reading this month, leave a comment. Happy reading!

Top 5 Most Recent Additions to Your #Reading Wishlist

Sorry I haven’t been posting much this month, blog fans. I was out of town and I’ve been swamped with work and PitchWars prep. But, I have two posts planned for next week that you can look forward to… one is my usual month-end summary post for July, and the other is a summary of my PitchWars prep process for anyone out there who’s curious about my writing process and/or how much work goes into preparing for a contest like PitchWars.

In the meantime, I thought I’d do a fun “top five” list from the “Top 5 Wednesday” prompts for this month.

I’ve been doing a lot of book browsing lately. While I was “back East,” I got to visit an amazing bookstore in Ann Arbor that is owned by a swimmer and his wife (Literati). I highly recommend stopping in if you’re in the area. It’s super cute and they have an excellent selection of books. Plus they have a sweet espresso bar upstairs. I could have spent the entire day there.

I’ve also been getting quite a few recommendations from friends–especially my best two reader friends who I got to spend time with recently. And, in my prep for PitchWars, I’ve been introduced to a ton of really great looking books written by the PitchWars mentors.

Since it seems like all I’ve been doing lately is adding books to my wishlist, I thought I’d do the “Top 5 Most Recent Additions to Your Wishlist” prompt. I’ve limited this to books that I currently do not own, but would really like to buy (or borrow from the library). Here are my five picks:

Top5-Wishlist

  1. Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz – This one came highly recommended by my two best bookish friends and I’ve learned that if they both like something, I better add it to my TBR immediately and reserve a copy at the library because there is a high likelihood that I will love it.
  2. Zero K by Don DeLillo – I think that one of my very first ever purchases from Amazon was his book Americana. Or maybe it was White Noise. I can’t remember. I could look this up, but I’m too lazy to log in to Amazon. It doesn’t really matter. I only bring it up to point out that I really like his writing style and when I saw he had a new book, I freaked out. The only problem is, something about his writing makes me want to read this in paper instead of on my Kindle. So, I may have to wait for it to come out in paperback…
  3. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith – I heard one of the Book Riot folks talking about this book on their podcast and I started bouncing in my seat. My first intended major was marine biology (later changed to something much more practical and boring: operations management). But, ever since reading The Arm of the Starfish in my formative years, I REALLY wanted to be a marine biologist like Mr. Murray (aka Calvin from A Wrinkle in Time, aka Polly’s dad). This one doesn’t come out until December. I may have to pre-order the hardcover. That’s how badly I want to read this book.
  4. Girl Underwater by Claire Kells – This one came recommended from a PitchWars mentor who found out about my love of swimming / swimmers. The blurb reads a little like a cross between a high school “swimcest” novel and the TV show Lost. Of course, I’ve never watched Lost, but there’s a plane crash and survival at stake, so that’s immediately what I thought of…
  5. Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel by Michio Kaku — This was one I saw someone I follow on Twitter talking about. Maybe another PitchWars mentor? It’s pop science that sounds like it would really help me with world building for a novel I’ve wanted to write but is more sci-fi than fantasy. But again, this is one of those books that I think I might enjoy more in paperback. Lucky for me, there appear to be many reasonably priced used copies available.

So, how about you? What’s on your wishlist? Do you have any recommendations for me?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with less than 2k reviews on Goodreads

toptentuesday

When I first saw The Broke and The Bookish‘s prompt for today, I thought there was no way that I would come up with ten books that I enjoyed that didn’t have more than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads. But, guess what! I was wrong.

I sorted my “read” shelf by number of reviews and, of the ones with less than 2k reviews, these are ten of my favorites:

HiddenGems

How is it that these books don’t have more Goodreads reviews? Do people just not know about their awesomeness? Well, let me tell you a little about why I liked them and maybe you’ll check out some of these hidden gems for yourself (links take you to my reviews on Goodreads).

  1. Serpentine by Cindy Pon — To everyone who says that they want more YA fantasy that set in non-Western worlds: you should be reading this book. If you liked the female friendship in Uprooted: you need to read this book. And, if you read it now, you’ll be all set to read the sequel when it comes out in September.
  2. The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman — This one is YA historical fiction that takes place in San Francisco (and a little bit in China) during the 1920s. It features a girl who pretends to be a boy so she can escape from Angel Island where all the Asian immigrants are being held, waiting to enter the United States. She has to figure out how to survive on her own in the city, once she gets there. She learns to fight and becomes a body guard for some Chinese mafia-types. And she does a bunch of other really cool stuff. I seriously do not understand why more people haven’t read this book.
  3. Sword by Amy Bai — I’ve talked about this book on my blog before. It’s epic fantasy with really cool world-building and it throws a bunch of tropes on their head. It’s not as flashy as a lot of other YA fantasy I’ve been reading. It’s a little quieter, but there are still battles. It’s more thoughtful and leaves a little more unsaid. But there is still a ton of emotion, a strong female friendship, and a little bit of a romantic sub-plot that’s more about character development than plot development.
  4. Swim: Why we Love the Water by Lynn Sherr — If you love to swim, even if you don’t compete or like to swim laps, but just love being in and around the water, you must read this book. There’s a bit of interesting history about the pastime and the sport, a bit of personal narrative and stories, and a ton of cool photographs and prints (enough that I recommend getting a paper copy).
  5. 28 Barbary Lane by Armstead Maupin — You may know this better by the title Tales of the City. This edition is a collection of the first three books in that series. If you’ve never heard of this series, the novels take place in San Francisco in the 1970s and they are excellent. They follow the story of a young woman who moves to San Francisco from the Midwest and the fabulous ensemble of characters she meets and befriends in the old Victorian building she moves into. I highly recommend this.
  6. The Romantics by Galt Niederhoffer — They made this book into a movie featuring Katie Holmes, but I think the book is better (surprise, surprise). If you’re doing the “Read Harder” challenge, may I suggest that you do this one for the “read a book / watch the movie” task? Definitely check this out if you enjoy unlikeable characters and stories of complicated friendships. Especially check this out if you liked the book Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.
  7. The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy — I originally read this because Kirstin Cashore (author of the Graceling series) mentioned that this book was one of the books that inspired her. It’s tense, creepy, the writing is excellent, it takes place in New Zealand, and there is a fabulous supernatural element to the story that will keep you turning pages, wanting to see what happens next. It’s such a good book. If you loved A Wrinkle in Time, or other “old-school” YA, then you should definitely check this one out.
  8. The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig — This is historical fiction, set along the Pacific Northwest coast (from Alaska to Oregon), in the mid-1800s. The book starts out in an Alaskan work-camp, and quickly becomes an epic canoe trip (based on a real event!). The descriptions are fantastic. The writing is so good. It probably doesn’t have many reviews because it was first published in the 1980s, but if you are looking for a literary fiction page-turner that strongly evokes a place, you should check this out.
  9. Momentum is Your Friend: The Metal Cowboy and His Pint-Sized Posse Take on America by Joe Kurmaskie — This book is a little like Wild, but if she had kids and took them on a back-roads bike trip across the country instead of the Pacific Crest Trail. It features an adventure loving father hitting mid-life and taking his sons across country on a bicycle tour, proving that kids can survive outside of “hermetically sealed SUVs” and that there can still be adventure and passion after 40.
  10. Nice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers — If what you’re really looking for is a contemporary romance featuring a woman in her mid-thirties and reads like a modern-day Jane Austen rom-com, then you should check out this book. Seriously, if you love realistic, feel-good stories, you need to read this book.

Mid-year Progress Update: Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge

Even though I said I wasn’t going to do any book challenges this year, I have been tracking progress against Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge, a list of 24 reading tasks to be completed in 2016.

I’m still trying to find a good way to keep track of the tasks and which book I plan to read for each. I created a new Goodreads shelf, and I’m thinking about printing out a copy of their form. But, for now, I’ll just re-post the list of tasks below along with the book I selected for each. Bold means I’ve completed that task (6 done so far), and blue means it’s on my TBR for July.

Below is the list for 2016 (book selections are in parenthesis):

  1. Read a horror book (Slade House)
  2. Read a nonfiction book about science (Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves)
  3. Read a collection of essays (The Empathy Exams)
  4. Read a book out loud to someone else (Information Doesn’t Want to be Free)
  5. Read a middle grade novel (The School for Good and Evil)
  6. Read a biography, not a memoir, or an autobiography –> Kingpin
  7. Read a dystopian or post apocalyptic novel (The Harvest)
  8. Read a book originally published in the decade you were born (To Ride Pegasus <–technically a re-read, but I’d intended to re-read it anyway)
  9. Listen to an audio book that won an Audie Award –>Yes Please
  10. Read a book over 500 pages long –> A Court of Mist and Fury
  11. Read a book under 100 pages –> Binti
  12. Read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender (George)
  13. Read a book that is set in the Middle East (Escape From Baghdad!)
  14. Read a book by an author from Southeast Asia (The Ghost Bride)
  15. Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900 (Hild)
  16. Read the first book in a series by a person of color (the first book of The Inheritance Trilogy)
  17. Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the past three years –> Bitch Planet
  18. Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie (The 5th Wave)
  19. Read a non-fiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes –> Lean In
  20. Read a book about religion, fiction or non-fiction (No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam)
  21. Read a book about politics in your country or another, fiction or non-fiction (maybe Our Kids or North Korea Confidential)
  22. Read a food memoir (An Embarrassment of Mangos)
  23. Read a play (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)
  24. Read a book with a main character who has a mental illness (The Boy Who Went Away)

Is anyone else participating in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge this year? If so, what are you reading?

June in Review

June2016

Half the year is over. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. I’d be a lot happier about it being the 1st of July if I were leaving for vacation today. But, I’m not. So, I guess that kind of puts me in a crummy mood.

However, I have a plan to fix that and it involves books. Reading them and writing them. Also swimming. I’m determined to make lemonade from these lemons, even if I’m not going to be drinking it sitting on a dock staring out at a lake with my friends…:/

I didn’t get much reading done in June — only four books. Well, technically, it was one novel and one audiobook plus a novella and a comics trade. So, maybe that only counts as three books?

Anyway, here’s what I ended up reading in June (links take you to my reviews on Goodreads).

June2016

Part of my “make July awesome” plan includes doing a lot of reading — just as soon as I finish edits on Godda’s War. I’m not going to let a little thing like ruined vacation plans put a dent in my summer reading. To cheer myself up, I’ve gone a bit crazy with my TBR and basically thrown out what was left of previous lists and started over with a (mostly) new one. Here’s my new and highly eclectic July TBR:

July2016TBR

  • Storm vol. 2: Bring the Thunder (comics trade) — I’m planning on reading this tomorrow after swimming while I’m enjoying my tea because that’s what I did last weekend with vol. 1 and it turned out to be an excellent idea. Saturday morning cartoons, but in print. Genius!
  • Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur by Cara Alwill Leyba (Kindle) — I saw a review from someone whose opinion I trust that said this was a really good book. I was intrigued by the title, so I decided to get it and give it a try.
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Kindle) — I can’t remember how I found this book but, once I read the premise, I was hooked. It’s about all these kids who, at one time, stumbled into a fantasy world and then returned to the “real world” and how they can’t really let go and are trying to get back. I have high hopes for this one…
  • George by Alex Gino (Kindle) — I didn’t get a chance to read this last month, as planned. But I will definitely be reading it this month.
  • To Ride Pegasus by Anne McCaffrey (Kindle) — This one is a re-read that I started re-reading a while ago and then put down to read something else. I’m not really sure that I’ll actually read it this month, but I want to read it for research, so we’ll see what happens…
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Hardcover, signed) — I’ve already started this one and it’s so good. I’m hoping I’ll have time to finish it this weekend.
  • Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Hardcover, signed) — I’m determined to read through my growing stack of Indiespensible books, and this one looked especially cool. So, I’m thinking I might try to read this sometime this month.
  • Peter and the Star Catchers by Dave Barry (paperback) — This was a Christmas present from our best friends’ son. It comes highly recommended, and I can’t resist a Peter Pan re-telling.
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Kindle) — I can’t watch the movie until I read the book…
  • This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab (Kindle, pre-order) — This book is all set to deliver to my Kindle on release day (Tuesday, 7/5). After reading only one of her books (Vicious), Schwab instantly became an auto-buy author for me. I am looking forward to dropping everything on Tuesday to start this book immediately.
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (Kindle, library) — Okay, okay. How many times has this been left un-read on my TBR? Yeah, I know. But I’m actually reading it right now (I started it yesterday), and I’m completely sucked in. So, I predict this will finally be read by the end of this weekend (if for no other reason than my library loan is expired, and I can’t turn my Kindle off airplane mode until I finish this or this book will disappear, and I need to turn off airplane mode to get This Savage Song… #readerProblems)
  • The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (paperback) — Our best friends’ son is letting me borrow this one. He says it’s really good, but what he didn’t know was that I’d had my eye on this one before he recommended it to me. I mean, magic boarding school for fairy-tale heroes and villians? Yes, please!

So, that’s an ambitious list of books for this month, huh? What in the world am I thinking? Aside from the obvious (books make everything better), I’m realizing that my creative well needs some re-filling and it needs re-filling outside my usual genres. So, in addition to my usual stuff, I’ve added a lot of literary fiction and middle grade on this list. Plus, I’ve made sure there is a healthy dose of diversity (because diversity is life). What may be less obvious is that I’m gearing up for some serious writing and I need fuel to support me on my journey. Bring on the books!

New York Times by the Book Tag (borrowed from BookTube)

What book is on your nightstand now?

The book I’m reading right now also happens to be literally sitting on my nightstand at the moment: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

What was the last truly great book that you read?

Great is *so* subjective… There are so many reasons why I might love a book and think it’s “great.” Maybe it’s because the writing is amazing, maybe I loved the world-building and/or the characters, maybe the romance was just perfect, maybe it was just so unique that it stood out from all the others, or maybe it just contained something I really needed to hear/read at that point in my life. That said, I think if forced to choose, I’d have to say that the last “truly great book” I’ve read would have to be Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book has received so many awards, was on so many end-of-year best-of lists, and has so much positive buzz that you hardly need me to tell you how truly great it is. This book wasn’t written for me, but it did one of those things that truly great books do, it provided a window into a world and a perspective that isn’t mine. It gave me a chance to put myself in someone else’s shoes — someone completely unlike me — and practice empathy. This is one of the many reasons why reading is so powerful and why I love books so much.

If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?

I think, if I could meet any writer, I’d pick Victoria Schwab because I’d love to have the chance to try to convince her that she wanted to be my writing buddy and mentor. Every time I hear her talk about her writing process, or read her tweets when she’s working on a book, I feel this intense kinship. I’d love to have her as a mentor. That would be a dream come true. There’s nothing in particular I’d like for her to tell me. She just the most visible writer I know who embodies the type of work ethic and writing style that I aspire to. (Maggie Stiefvater would be a close second.)

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have this one book on etiquette that was particularly important to me in my formative teenage years. I think it’s out of print at this point, but here’s a link to some used copies on Amazon. It’s completely old-school and probably not something you’d expect to see on my bookshelf, but I love it and it maintains a place of honor on my “favorites” shelf. Plus, I think my copy was signed by the author.

How do you organize your personal library?

For the most part, my books and my husband’s books are all mixed together. Our bookshelves used to be totally organized, but they’ve become a bit chaotic since we sold our house near Portland and moved into this apartment near San Francisco. In general, our books are grouped the same way you might find them in a bookstore. There is a shelf for cookbooks, one for travel books, several shelves of non-fiction and of fiction. But, I did reserved a few shelves on one bookcase for my favorite books. That shelf has all my special edition Harry Potter books and basically all the books I’d try to save if there was a fire or an earthquake.

What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?

There are a ton of classics that I haven’t read and always meant to, but I’m more embarrassed about the sci-fi and fantasy books that I haven’t read yet. Three books in particular, all by Neal Stephenson, come to mind: Reamde, Anathem, and Cryptonomicon. I’ve had all three of these on Kindle for such a long time, and I keep meaning to read them and then never get around to it. Since so many of my friends (and my husband) love these books, I feel really embarrassed any time I have to admit that I *still* haven’t read them yet.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

One book that I’m always embarrassed to admit that I didn’t love is An Ember in the Ashes. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I did. It’s just that everyone I know LOVES this book and for me it just didn’t live up to the hype. I just didn’t care much for either of the two main characters, and I really didn’t like the “love-square” relationship drama. I’ll still read the sequel, and who knows, maybe I’ll like it more. But yeah, I just don’t have all the feels for that one.

As for last book I put down without finishing… last year, for the Read Harder challenge, I tried to read The Count of Monte Cristo, but I just couldn’t get into it. I’ll probably try again at some point.

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

In general, I’m drawn to most sci-fi and fantasy stories, but I’m especially drawn to military space operas, alien first contact, magical boarding schools, and anything where there isn’t a clear “good” and “evil” side.

I usually steer clear of anything that involves abuse and anything with messed-up marriages. I don’t have a lot of interest in spending time in those worlds. So, if I get the sense that a popular book includes this type of thing, I usually just skip it. For this reason, I still haven’t read (and don’t really plan to read) Gone Girl, A Little Life, or pretty much anything by Jonathan Franzan.

If you could require the President to read one book, what would it be?

From what I’ve seen, the President reads a lot of really smart books, both literature and non-fiction. So, I think I’d recommend he read something just totally fun. I also think it would have to be a romance because I get the sense that President Obama loves love, but he probably hasn’t read a romance. I’d love to see him read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell because it’s not just a romance — it’s a m/m romance, a sort-of spoof on Harry Potter (and all the other “chosen one” books), and it has some pretty unique magic. Then, after he read it, I’d like to see him sit down and talk about it with the author on YouTube. That would be AWESOME. Someone please make this happen.

What do you plan to read next?

I really, really need to read the second book in the Neapolitan Novels next, The Story of a New Name. My mom just finished the fourth (last) book in the series, and I need to catch up!

Who do you tag?

I tag anyone who thinks this looks like a fun book tag and wants to give it a try. If you do this (or already did it) on your blog or your BookTube channel, post a link in the comments so I can check it out!