Friday Funny with Lots of Reading

It’s Friday? Really? Huh. Well, that’s a pleasant surprise. I guess it makes sense in retrospect, but…yeah. For once, I had a fast week. Woo-hoo!

…However, looking back now, it wasn’t that fast. Actually, it was really long, really busy, and really tiring! My week was jam-packed with working and reading. Well, A LOT of reading. On Wednesday, those of us who advanced to the 2nd round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge were given the green light to share our entries. I posted mine–Over the Edgehere, as well as on the competition’s forum (a hub for all the competitors to interact and read each other’s stories).

So far, the general feedback for my mystery has been positive.

Here are some of the kind comments I’ve received so far:

Holy sh*t! That was amazing! Forget just mystery – it was that plus a thriller, plus an action/adventure, plus suspense, plus I don’t know what else.

A cracking, swift, brutal roller coaster that’s been very well executed in just three days, bravo.

All in all, a powerfully developed thriller that keeps you guessing. A lot of surprise turns for a piece so short.

A great ride all the way to the cliff. Then even more surprise.

As far as criticism goes, there’s been a debate about one specific aspect of my story. Without giving it away, I’ll just say some people loved it, some people thought I needed to push it further, and some thought I pushed too far–ha! Just goes to show you how subjective readers can be.

Despite many reassurances, I’m still nervous the judges won’t consider Over the Edge a true mystery. And even if they do, I have little faith it will get me to the final round. This competition is intense. There’s no guessing who will advance and who won’t. I’m just grateful I made it this far.

In addition to receiving feedback, I’ve been giving lots and lots of feedback to other competitors. As of this morning, I’ve read over 20 short stories since Wednesday. It’s been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. It amazes me how people process their prompts differently. So far, out of the six I’ve read from my heat, none of us have come close to writing the same story. Some have “detectives”, some don’t. Some are funny, some are intense. Some are gentle, some are violent. Seriously, they’re all over the map. Same goes for the seven other groups with different prompts. No two stories have been alike. Crazy!

Anyways, my plan today is to read a handful more of 2nd round entries, and then it’s time for me to cut way back and refocus on my manuscript. I knew it would take a painful hit the past two weeks with the contest, but it’s time for me to squash those distracting butterflies, roll up my sleeves, and get to work–to #WriterUp!

screen-shot-2014-03-03-at-9-58-49-amIn honor of my crazy reading week (and also opening day for you baseball fans out there) here are a couple of Friday Funnies for your enjoyment!



603675f1885b19ef3d8fc2d412ca4120How was your week? Better tell me now before I enter Hermitville this weekend with my manuscript! 😉

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Survived Round 2 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Over The Edge – 2nd Round Entry – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Survived Round 2 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

I made it. I survived round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Let’s all give one big “Woo-hoo!” cheer. And, what the hell, let’s throw in an “Oh yeah, I rock!” dance.

The challenge got off to a rocky start (in a good way). My sister gave birth to my newest nephew early Thursday morning, the day before the contest kicked off. So, not only was I 100% distracted, but I was exhausted. I was awake almost 24 straight hours helping/supporting/worrying about my sister and the arrival of Cy (a late night phone call, an early morning text, a mad dash to the hospital, etc.). I was so emotionally and physically tired by Thursday night, I was worried I wouldn’t have the mental sharpness or preparedeness I needed to take on the writing contest. Thankfully, I was able to get a good night’s sleep, and I woke up Friday morning fresh and ready to go. More than ready–excited!

So, holding my breath, I opened “The Email” with my round 2 assignment:


First thought? “Thank you, Lord! No political satire or rom-com.” Second thought? “Oh, oh. I’ve never written a mystery before.” Not only that, but I don’t read many mystery novels, nor do I watch any mystery/crime shows, like Law & Order or CSI. I asked myself, “What’s a ‘mystery’? Do I have to have a detective? Do I have to follow a “whodunit” standard? Are those requirements in this genre? Or are they a cliche?” I didn’t know. So I did what I always do. I said, “Whatever! I’m doin’ what I want!”

Surprisingly, I came up with a basic concept fast. Well, I figured out a location and a title, Over the Edge. I built the story from there–er, slowly. By Friday evening, I finished a butt-ugly rough draft and sent it to my harshest/best critic: my mom. She liked the skeleton of the story, but she said it was “missing something”. To figure out what that “something” was, we brainstormed together for a couple of hours. During those hours, I went from cool, calm, and collected, to “I suck. My story sucks. This all sucks!” I was certain the skeleton of Over the Edge was useless and I needed to toss it out and start alllll the way over.

Then my mom made a simple suggestion about the ending, and voila! I knew what I needed to do. I woke up on Saturday with a clear (well, clear-ish) plan in my head. Using my story’s skeleton structure, I recreated my main character and reshaped the plot to fit the ending my mom had suggested. Things came together quickly, and by noon, I had a sturdy draft. Only problem? It was 1,000 words over the 2,000 word count limit.

Hence began The Great Chop. I spent the rest of the day cutting and slashing and revising; hiyah’ing and punching and kicking. I did everything I could to chop out those extra 1,000 words…It was horrible. And ridiculous! Every draft, I only managed to delete about 100 words (2,902…2,787…2,625…). No matter what I did, I couldn’t condense the story. I couldn’t edit it down to the golden 2,000 mark.

As I pulled my hair out–er, I mean, wrote, I tried to ignore the clock. I could feel time ticking away. I could feel my Sunday deadline approaching, closer and closer, faster and faster. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…

By Saturday evening, I had a “good enough” draft to send to my beta readers. Now, I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous to send my story to them. Like Chasing Monsters, Over the Edge ended up being rather intense. I’m not sure if it’s the genres, characters, or subjects I’m assigned during these contests, but when my fingers start typing, they take me to places I’m not prepared to go. However, I’ve become a strong believer in writing stories that demand to be told. I can’t let my fears hold me back.

So, I swallowed my anxiety and sent my story off. A little while later, my beta readers’ feedback returned. Overall, they liked it! Minus a few nitpicks and a couple of confusing parts, I had a solid story on my hands. I went to bed feeling calmer and better than I had since first opening my assignment email on Friday morning.

I spent Sunday morning making a few final tweaks and re-reading my final draft of Over the Edge about five times (two times out loud). Then, I hit the submit button and collapsed.

So, there you go! I’m exhausted, but exhilarated I finished another crazy round in a NYC Midnight writing challenge. I still don’t know if Over the Edge is a “mystery”, but I did my best with it.

I won’t know until late April how it officially does in the competition. Like round 1, my chances are pretty slim to advance to the final round. Only the top 5 in each heat are chosen, so that means out of the 200 remaining competitors, only 40 move on…Yeah, not holding my breath.

Once I receive confirmation it’s okay to publicly share our stories, I’ll post Over the Edge here. If you have a chance to stop by and read it, I’d love your feedback.  

Book Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

11178225Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys


“It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.
She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.”

Jen’s Review

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. I tend to find them drowning in nitty gritty details, too many dates and names, and general boringness…But every now and then I find one that I love from beginning to end. And Out of the Easy is one of them.

Ruta Sepetys is clearly an expert at taking real-life events and spinning them into tightly woven, fast-paced and well-told stories. She knows exactly how to create emotionally driven plots, stomach-dropping twists and, most of all, believable characters who pop off the page. When they cry, you cry. When they fall, you fall. And when they pull themselves back up and take a stand against their enemies, you stand with them. It’s a true gift that very few authors have.

I have found that Ruta Sepetys’ books give the reader not just a story, but an experience–an experience that’s both touching and memorable. So make sure you experience Out of the Easy. And if you haven’t read her other book, Between Shades of Gray, experience that one, too! Trust me, you’ll never forget it.

Jen’s Rating

4 Star

Read more about Out of the Easy here!

Jen’s Top 10 Favorite Adult Fiction

I thought I would have fun today and do another Top 10 list. Today’s focus: my favorite adult fiction books. This includes a variety of sub genres (fantasy, romance, mystery, etc.). So sit back and enjoy! And if you haven’t read these yet, go read them!

**Warning to lit critics: Please, do not get upset with me. This list is on the lighter and, admittedly, more commercial side of life. But, I assure you, all of these are good/entertaining reads. So, thank you in advance for not judging me too harshly :-).

1. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

tumblr_luaw2lcnxc1qcb6a5The Book of What? Maybe you’ve heard of this book, maybe you haven’t. I happened to discover it while browsing the shelves at The Tattered Cover (the bright red cover popped out at me and I immediately knew I had to have it). It was gamble that paid off. I found myself swiftly ensnared by the 12-year old David and his harrowing journey into adulthood. The whole time I was reading, I was wondering if what David was experiencing was real, or not–if the fantastical adventure he was on was actually happening, or if he was dreaming the whole thing.

In a way, The Book of Lost Things reminds me of a darker, twisted version of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, only we visit a disturbing fantasy land that’s filled with the fairy tales we thought we knew, but don’t (i.e. Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood). It’s been five years since I read The Book of Lost Things and I’m still thinking about it. It’s one of those books I know I’ll have on my bookshelf for the rest of my life.

Read it, read it, read it!

For more details, click here.

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

554286I loved this book when I was a child and my dad used to read it to me before bed. I loved this book in high school when I read it for the first time on my own. And I love this book now, years later, when I go back to revisit my favorite Middle-Earth characters and their quirky, adventurous lives.

Now, some of you may be hesitant to pick this book up because you think it’ll be confusing, hard to read, and slow paced. But I assure you, The Hobbit is fun, witty and a swift page turner. It’s a book for all generations, meant to be enjoyed again and again. So go read it! It’s sure to be a classic that stays with you your whole life.

For more details, click here.

3. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 

5826This was one of those subtly amazing books. The type you don’t realize you’ve fallen in love with until you turn the last page and feel empty and lost because it’s over.

From the rebel’s violent attack on the elite dinner party, to the surprisingly poignant relationships formed between terrorists and captives, to the fateful ending, Bel Canto sinks its sweet claws into you and won’t let go. It’s lyrical, enthralling and a true testament to the human spirit. This quote says it best: “That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback.”

For more details, click here.

4. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein 

3153910Let me start off by saying I love dogs, but I’m not a huge fan of stories about them. To me, they have tragedy and ultimate sadness written all over them. You know–you just know–the dog is going to die. And what’s sadder than a dog dying? Seriously? Whenever I watch a movie and I see a human and dog in mortal peril, I pray for the dog. “Dear God, not the dog. Kill little Billy, but not Fido. Please!”

However, I made an exception for The Art of Racing in the Rain. A good family friend gave it to me as a gift, and after asking me multiple times if I had read it yet, I finally succumbed and read it. And I’m so happy I did! This is a wonderful story, told entirely from the narrative of a wise, funny and philosophical dog, Enzo.

I’m not going to lie, there were sad moments, but there were also many uplifting, heartwarming, cheer-worthy moments. And–after wiping my tears away–I was smiling at the end and telling everyone they needed to read it. So you should too!

For more details, click here.

5. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

7315573I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, which is strange because I love history (shrug). However, Fall of Giants kept me snagged from page one, all the way to page 960. Yes, like Follet’s other epic reads, most notably The Pillars of the Earth, this tale was a doozy. But I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I unthinkingly started it right before I was set to leave for a week-long beach vacation. Since I don’t own a tablet or e-book reader, I made the difficult decision to leave the two-ton book behind and take a couple  lighter, easier to transport ones.

Then, as I was walking out the front door to head to the airport, I realized I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Fall of Giants at home–I swear, it was looking at me like a sad puppy whimpering, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me”. So, I stuffed it in my bag and shouldered the extra weight. And I don’t regret my decision at all…except for accidentally getting sand and saltwater all over it. Then again, I spilled coffee on it a week later too, so…Poor “puppy”.

Let’s just say Fall of Giants is a well loved book in my household now. And it should be loved in yours too!

For more details, click here.

6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen 

43641I did not want to read this book. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t! But every time I went to the bookstore or Target or someone’s house, I saw it. It mocked me everywhere I went, torturing me with its colorful cover and proclamations that it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Still, I stubbornly refused to buy it. I don’t know why, it just looked dull and boring and blah to me.

Then something terrible happened. I found out Water for Elephants was going to be made into a movie. Curse you Hollywood! I pursed my lips and trudged to the bookstore, determined to read the darn thing, just like I always do whenever a popular book is going to be adapted to the big screen. Book Nerd Rule #1: Always read the book before seeing the movie. Always, always! Even if you’re not planning on seeing the movie, read the book just in case!

So I did. And I loved it. Stupid, beautiful, wonderful Water for Elephants. Your reputation lived up to expectations–exceeded them. Grrr 😉 Don’t resist like I did. Check it out!

For more details, click here.

7. Perfect by Judith McNaught

129617-1Okay, fellas, turn away. I’ve got a romance here–some may even dare to call it a “trash novel”. But, not me. To me, Perfect is far from trash. It’s perfect ;-). The first time I read it was in high school. Since then, I’ve read it AT LEAST five more times. Every couple of years, I can’t resist rereading small town teacher Julie Mathison’s suspenseful, adventurous and heart-fluttering romance with ex-Hollywood superstar-now runaway fugitive, Zachary Benedict. Again and again, this story exhilarates, humors, and enthralls. And it never fails to make my heart skip a beat…or two.

If you end up reading and liking Perfect, make sure you check out Judith McNaught’s other novels (starting with A Kingdom of Dreams…sigh…hee, hee).

For more details, click here.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett 

4667024Yes, of course I included The Help on this list. Because it rocked!

Honestly, I can’t even remember reading this book, or who told me to read it, or why I didn’t resist reading it like I do so many big time, highly publicized books (ahem, Water for Elephants). I just know that I read it and I loved it and I think everyone else should read it too! Plus, from a writer’s standpoint, I love Kathryn Stockett’s personal journey to find this book an agent. Rejection after rejection she refused to give up on it, and she proved to the rest of us struggling writers that if you’re passionate enough to fulfill your dream, you can.

For more details, click here.

9. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith 

2161733I happened to find this book–hardback and brand new–at a garage sale. I paid one buck for it. ONE BUCK! But trust me, it is worth full retail price. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction and I’m not a huge fan of mystery. However, this book was both, and I LOVED it, which proves that it is, indeed, a worthy read. It’s an edge of your seat, stomach-twisting, palm sweating story that keeps you turning page after page. And, as an American, it makes me appreciate my daily freedoms and lifestyle.

For more details, click here.

10. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella 

75576Once again fellas you may not be keen on this choice of mine, but who knows? Maybe you’re one of those guys who secretly enjoys romantic comedies? (I know there are a lot of you out there, even if you are hiding.) Well, this is by far my favorite chick-lit book. Like most of Sophie Kinsella stories, Can you Keep a Secret? is heart warming, hilarious and, at times, utterly ridiculous. But, I love its goofy premise and especially its shake-your-head-and-roll-your-eyes-at characters.

This is one book I wish they’d make into a movie. I think it would be outstanding on the big screen. I know I’d definitely pay to go see it (after making sure everyone reads the book first, of course).

For more details, click here.

So, that’s it! I’m certain this list will change over time as I read more books, but for now, these are my favorite adult fiction books. Hope you add them to your TBR list!

How about you? What are your personal favorites?