Molly Peacock: Guest Post!

Random House of Canada has given me the opportunity to have the talented Molly Peacock, author of Alphabetique, write a guest post for my blog. I really enjoyed the book, and highly recommend it to those who are looking for an artistic read over the holidays. Enjoy!

How did Kara Kosaka and Molly Peacock collaborate? 

Working with Kara Kosaka was one of the richest artistic experiences I’ve ever had. AND, we’ve never met in person.  After I wrote the biography The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, I wanted to be released into purely imaginative writing. I started to make line drawings of my tales, but my own drawing skills are, um, primitive.  I started wondering about collaborating with a illustrator. Could an illustrator urge my tiny tales to a larger scope of imagination?  When C.S. Richardson, the novelist who wrote The End of the Alphabet and who is also Creative Director at Penguin Random House Canada, suggested the sublimely gifted digital collage artist Kosaka, I knew that my vision (after all, the vision of an author is really the images the author works with) would be realized in a similar way to a librettist’s vision being released by a composer.  Kara read the stories from the inside out, highlighting images I never would have thought to bring forward, creating a whole landscape of animals, flowers, swords, letter openers, sculptures and, best of all, subtle but jewel-like colors for each letter of the alphabet. Her work makes it the most beautiful book I’ve been privileged to publish.

BUT! This book isn’t just a collaboration of two. It’s more like a string quartet, to continue that musical image, because C.S. Richardson’s design and direction, combined with our editor Lara Hinchberger’s sense that this book is also about wordplay and grammar, created a four-way email relationship that added a crucial creative layer.  Each Thursday Kara would sit with her little daughter Mae at her feet, creating a collage, emailing it at midnight Pacific time from Vancouver.  Friday morning I ran to open the collage and comment on it.  Over the weekend Richardson and Hinchberger would chime in. Even the subtitle of the book came from the collaborative quartet.  We agonized that this book is really an abecedarian for adults (as well as for wise children) but wondered how to convey that. C.S. Richardson playfully inserted the subtitle into one of his cover designs and, voila, we had it. Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions contains all our voices.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix: Book Review

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I saw Horrorstor at a bookstore, and I immediately fell for the cover. I love experimental and realistic images, and the fact that this cover mimicked that of an IKEA catalogue really drew me in. Quirk Books sent me an advanced readers copy, and I couldn’t wait to dive right in, with no idea what to really expect. It was horror, it was quirky, and that was good enough reason to put this book at the top of my priority list.

Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstor follows the story of Amy, a woman who works at an IKEA imitation store called Orsk, and who is terrified of losing her job before she’s allowed to transfer to another store. When her boss, Basil, calls her into his office, she thinks she’s fired, but instead he asks her to accompany him on a special mission: stay overnight at Orsk to help him uncover the secret behind who is vandalizing the store after everyone goes home.

Horrorstor is a classic scary story in a modern setting, which makes it all the more frightening. I don’t know about you, but when I watch a scary movie set in a cabin hidden in the woods, or an abandoned building, I don’t feel that scared because I never see myself being in that situation. But I work retail in a superstore, so reading this book really hit home for me. I will never work overnights, that’s for sure.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s witty, satirical, and goose-bump-inducing. One of my favourites of the year. It’s not a long read at all, either. The catalogue feel goes all the way through the book, and the visuals really support the text. If you have time to sit down and read a quick book, I really recommend this one.

I won NaNoWriMo 2014!

I’ve said this to a bunch of people in the past couple of days, as I finished writing my 50,000th word on November 28th. And I find that people who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is are congratulating me on writing the best novel. So first, I’m going to explain what winning means, and then I’ll go into my experience with the writing contest!

When someone says that they’ve won NaNoWriMo, what it means is that they finished writing all 50,000 words. So it’s not like someone sat there and judged all the novels and gave out prizes based on subjectivity and quality of novel. I won because I finished. Which is still no small feat. When’s the last time you wrote a 200-page novel in a month? Exactly.

I’ve never participated in National Novel Writing Month, so this was my first year, and I had an absolute blast!

I call myself a writer, and I have notebooks filled with ideas, but I’ve never finished an entire novel before. So when I finished the last words of my acknowledgements page, I had this wave of relief and accomplishment wash over me. Like if I did this in one month, I could finally unpack all of my other novel ideas as well, and be a real writer who writes novels (as opposed to a writer who thinks a lot and jots down some stuff).

Now that NaNoWriMo is complete, I actually miss it. As stressful as it was throughout the month to have this giant project looming over my shoulder, nagging me every time I sat down to relax, I miss the writing now that it’s over. All of that time I set aside for writing feels like I have so much time to do other things, maybe I can read or catch up on Doctor Who… but all I want to do is come up with another story idea and write some more.

I wonder if that’s what I got out of NaNoWriMo – it showed me the rewards of getting your writing done, and it’s got me wanting to write even more. Even if I hadn’t finished, I don’t think that would have discouraged me. Getting any amount of writing on paper was what felt so good. Perhaps I’ll spend this Christmas holiday working on my next novel…

Toronto International Book Fair

So this year I bought my ticket to the INSPIRE Toronto International Book Fair (TIBF) and honestly had no idea what to expect. I knew there were going to be authors doing a panel. I knew which authors were going to be there. And I knew there was going to be an entire room in a convention centre full of books. That was enough to sell me.

I went the first two days with my best friends, and ended up meeting some cool bloggers throughout the weekend. The first day, my friends and I spent most of the afternoon browsing through all of the booths and enjoying the books. Eventually we made our way over to the “I Don’t Give a Damsel” panel, hosted by Elaine Lui who interviewed YA authors Gayle Forman, E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski and Meg Wolitzer about how to write strong female characters. That was a pretty great panel; I loved listening to them talk about feminism and how to make readable characters. Afterwards we made our way to the signing, where we all got an E. Lockhart book and got to meet her, which was exciting!

Day two was a little more hectic. Less looking at booths and more waiting in lines to meet people I really look up to. It was stressful, actually, standing in line and trying to figure out what to say to these authors who have heavily influenced me as a writer, or even me as a person. The first person I got to meet was astronaut and all-around badass, Chris Hadfield, who is such an inspiration to me just in his intelligence and the way he looks at life with such wonder.

(That’s not me, by the way. I just snapped a shot of Hadfield and another fan after I got my autograph!)

Afterwards, my friends headed out, and I went to the Margaret Atwood panel, which was a huge deal for me. I’ve been a fan ever since I read Handmaid’s Tale in my first year of university and realized just how far the genre of dystopia can go. I just knew I wanted to write like her, and talk about the things she talked about. Her panel was really interesting, and listening to her discuss some of her newer works made me wish I had picked up her new collection of tales as well. She is so witty, and hearing her mention that she was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe had me sold. When I finally got to meet her, I didn’t know what to say, but it was definitely a great moment.

Besides the fact that I got to meet some excellent authors and book bloggers (or vloggers), I mostly enjoyed my overall experience at the TIBF. There are just some things I specifically wanted to point out about the event, both on good and bad notes, for anyone who wants to go to the event next year, or if anyone who planned the event happens to be reading this blog.

People who were doing it right:

  • Entangled Publishers. Their booth gave away like, 6 free books a day. I grabbed a handful both days and will be reviewing them throughout this blog as they get read. I paid money to get into this fair and it was really nice to see a booth that was willing to give away free (personally signed!) books. Thank you for that, Entangled!
  • Random House of Canada: I’m pretty sure by now you guys know I review for Random House, so I’m pretty biased in saying this but their booth set up was not only gorgeous, but well organized and had four checkouts for quick purchase. They also organized the lineups for signings (I’m specifically talking about Chris Hadfield’s) really well. Way to keep things from getting too crazy!

Things that could have been better:

  • Food. There were two or three food options, all fairly quirky and all very expensive. Not everyone wants to eat sushi or spend $10 on a salad. Or $20 on a crepe. It was pretty crazy. I starved myself most of the day to avoid the prices. And there were a LOT of children at this event who, I’m sure, did not want sushi. The event would have benefited from a pizza place or hot dogs. Something more generic and inexpensive.
  • Photos at the Chris Hadfield signing. I have a bone to pick with whoever was standing at the front of the line, offering to take photos of you and Hadfield while he was signing your book. I can live with no posed photography; I understand it’s busy. But if you take my camera and say you’ll take a photo while he’s signing my book… take the photo. I got my camera back with no new photos on it. I could have taken a photo myself, or had a friend snap a quick one from the other side of the lineup. I was VERY angry when my turn was over and the guy who handed me back my camera did NOTHING with it. Everything was on auto and set to take pictures. I don’t know what the problem was. So that was really annoying.

Overall, I really liked being at the TIBF, and I will definitely go again next year. It offered wonderful deals and great experiences that I’ll never forget, and I’d be excited to see how they take the criticism from this year’s event and improve upon it for next year!

Were you at the TIBF? Which authors or panels did you see? What drew you there? How much free swag did you come home with?

NaNoWriMo – Writing Motivation

Things are progressing well so far on my quest to writing 50,000 words in one month!

As of right now, I’m at approximately 30,000 words, with a good chunk of the novel left to write. I’m definitely a “planner”, not a “pantster”, so I’ve had my detailed chapter outlines and character descriptions written for weeks. So I know there are still about ten chapters left to go.

The huge thing motivating me right now is one of the sponsor offers, which promises every NaNoWriMo winner 2 free paperback copies of their novel. I don’t even need to be published, but seeing a hard copy of one of my novels would definitely make me feel accomplished and maybe motivate me to try to get something published in the future!

Are any of you fellow WriMos? How is your writing going? What keeps you motivated?

Alphabetique by Molly Peacock: Book Review

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Sometimes being a book blogger is one of my favourite things because it delivers such wonderful surprises. When you go into a bookstore, you’re likely to revisit the sections you’re most familiar with: be it YA fiction, or non-fiction science books, or hardcore fantasy novels. You know what you like and you want to see what new reads there are for your favourite genre. But being a book blogger, sometimes I get to choose what comes my way, and other times, I take a stab in the dark and get sent a book that I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to get out of it. Alphabetique was one of those beautiful books.

Alphabetique is a book of 26 short stories, each starring a letter of the alphabet – and when I say ‘starring’, I really do mean it. The first chapter is about a character called A, and anywhere Peacock can fit an adjective or any sort of word that starts with ‘a’ in this chapter, she will. The book is filled with beautiful and poetic alliteration from start to finish that really encapsulates the idea of each letter, whether it be what said letter is known for, how it looks, or the way the letter feels as it comes off your tongue.

Each chapter also has a page of illustration that adds to the beauty of the letter. You’re experiencing each letter of the alphabet through all of your senses: the visual images, the feel of the letter in your mouth as you say it, the sound it makes in any given word… Maybe you’re not smelling the letters, but I’ll bet the imagery Peacock uses throughout the book would be enough to get some olfactory senses going at one point or another.

Prior to receiving this book, I’d never heard of Molly Peacock, but now that I’ve finished the book, I’m actually interested in picking up some more of her works. Because she is a poet.

I’d recommend you read Alphabetique if you’re sick and tired of reading the same old stories and want some refreshing language to sift through. It’s a short read, but I’d suggest a few read-throughs in order to really capture the plot of each story through the alliteration, as well as catching each reference and sound that each letter makes in its starring chapter.

Overall, I gave Alphabetique a solid 3/5 on Goodreads.

Peacock’s Alphabetique is available for purchase November 4, 2014.

What I’m Writing for NaNoWriMo

Yesterday was the first day of National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve been planning for a few weeks what I wanted to write about. I’ve had a few novel ideas kicking around my head that I’ve been actually feeling proud of, and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to cram into one month. Some of them, I actually wanted to put time into and make sure I had the narrator’s voice right, while others weren’t as big a priority and I didn’t want to write them right away.

Eventually, I decided on something completely new. I had an idea where I had some details that I knew had to be part of the story, but otherwise, I had no idea what I wanted the details of the plot to be. I’d come up with a sort-of plot that could get me through NaNo, and I figured I could work out the rest later. Which is kind of what NaNo does in the first place – forces you to get your ideas onto paper, and you can go back and edit another time. So that’s what I’d do with this baby.

If you go onto my NaNoWriMo profile, you’ll see that my story is called Identity Crisis, and the novel tells a sort of dystopian tale of two unlikely heroes. When I started writing, that’s all I had. Luckily I came up with a plot about philosophers taking over the government to make people more peaceful, and implement what they believed were the best philosophical beliefs upon the people of the city in order to maintain peace. But of course, something becomes corrupt and the idea gets misunderstood and the philosophers start to have more power over the people than they initially wanted.

So that’s what I’ll be writing this month. I hope it sounds interesting to you, because I’m really loving the way its written so far. My protagonist, who is also the narrator, is really funny and breaks the fourth wall a lot. But that’s just my opinion. I can’t wait to see what you think of it!

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Starts Tomorrow!

As I said in a previous post, this year I’m participating in NaNoWriMo for the very first time! National Novel Writing Month. I finally have the time, so I’m going to do it. Focus on nothing but writing my 50,000-word novel from November 1st to November 30th, and hopefully have something awesome come out of it.

But when I say focus only on writing, I actually mean it. I’ll post maybe a couple reviews on this blog in the next month, and maybe one video review on my YouTube channel, but other than that you won’t be hearing too much from me about other books.

That being said, I will likely post on a fairly regular basis about what I’m writing and my progress in NaNoWriMo (which you can find under the ‘writing’ category on the side of this page), so be prepared for that. I’m also taking a weekend out of my busy month to go to Inspire TIBF (Toronto International Book Fair), and I’ll be posting here and on my channel about that, as well.

So you’ll be hearing from me, I just won’t be doing much reviewing until December.

Wish me luck!

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: Book Review

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When Random House of Canada offered me a reviewers copy of Dunham’s book, I could hardly contain myself. I am a huge fan of the show Girls, and her character is my favourite. Knowing she writes the show as well, I knew what to expect from a novel of her writing. Well, I thought I knew what to expect. That’s where I got let down. I think I just expected a little too much.

Not That Kind of Girl is Lena Dunham’s autobiography about everything that she’s learned thus far in her life. I’m not one to put down an autobiography simply because the author is still young; you’re never too young to have an experience that must be shared with the world. Only I didn’t find any of her essays particularly urgent. They lacked the feeling of “that story that absolutely needed to be told”. If you’re getting a book published, you should have something to say, and I felt as though Dunham said a whole lot of nothing.

The first chapter was quite interesting to me. She wrote about her sexual escapades that had me thinking about the issues of feminism and slut-shaming, thinking it brave that Dunham would spill her guts out about such personal matters and not be ashamed of them. That’s the way it should be. But as the book went on, the crazy exploits (not just sexual) kept on coming, and there was yet a lesson to be learned.

I don’t care if she chooses to skip out on work to do drugs, or she gets so drunk or high that she gets herself into some sexual trouble that could ultimately be very dangerous. But if she’s writing a book about it, there better be a point as to why I’m reading this book about it. If these are just stories and she hasn’t actually a lesson to teach, why should I read them?

On the plus side, I’m a fairly liberal person and some of the things Dunham has done makes me seem a bit prudish. So it did make me think about my liberal declaration and whether or not I should be uptight about some of the things that are fairly societally accepted as things to be uptight about. That was kind of interesting. I like being challenged in that way.

I also acknowledge that maybe I liked the sex chapter because I could relate, and I didn’t like the education one or the body image one because I really couldn’t relate. I was a good student who loved school all the way through. I never really had many concerns with my health or body image. So maybe that’s why I didn’t care very much – I just couldn’t relate, couldn’t sympathize, couldn’t emote the way she expected me to.

I got to the final section of the book – “The Big Picture” – before putting it down for good. I gave Not That Kind of Girl two stars on Goodreads. I still love Lena Dunham, but I’m going to keep to watching Girls and leave it at that.

NaNoWriMo 2014!

Yes, after many pestering friends have told me about NaNoWriMo and I’ve told them I’m too busy to participate… I’m finally NOT too busy to participate.

Don’t know what the friggity frack I’m talking about? Here, let me fill you in!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it takes place throughout the month of November. Ever felt like you’ve wanted to write a novel? Well, here’s your chance! All you have to do is strive to write a 50,000-word novel in one month and you’re a winner!

Now as much as I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and I constantly have about seven novel ideas on the go at any given moment, I’ve also been holding down a full-time job, or in university, or working hard to try and get accepted into university. I’ve honestly never had the time to dedicate to 50,000 words.

But now after having gotten through uni and working full-time, I’m back in college where the work-load is considerably lessened and I actually have some extra time to spend doing things I want to do. Like catching up on Doctor Who, or finally sitting down and writing that damn novel.

So I’ve decided I’m going to try my hardest this month to write out one of my ideas. Get the wheels turning, so to speak. It’s about time I’ve taken everything I’ve learned while reading my way to an English degree and use it to accomplish my own literary goals.

If you’re interested, sign up here! NaNoWriMo goes from November 1st-30th!